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Boeing 797 Review
META: Read our review of the concept plane the Boeing 797 and find out when we may see the aircraft in the air.
An image from a Paris air show circa 2006 spawned a plague of false claims that Boeing was creating a new aircraft dubbed the “797” to carry up to 1,000 passengers. The plane had a blended wing design which allows for a wider body which accommodates more passengers. The new aircraft would allegedly fly halfway around the world before needing to take on fuel.
According to Boeing and Snopes, no such plane or plans for a similar model existed in 2006. As of this writing, Boeing does not make a 797. They do plan to develop a plane they have codenamed the 797. We believe the codename may be more joke than fact based on the earlier hoax. Boeing manufactures a 747-8, 767, 777, 777X, 787, and a few variations of its 737 commercial planes.
As of this writing, the Boeing 797 is an aircraft in concept only and not concrete plans exist to build it. The most significant issues Boeing faces include engine manufacturers that don’t feel the market is strong enough for them to get a fair share of the profits and Boeing is still deciding if their intended market will accept the plane. In the concept, the plane holds less cargo than the intended market desires.
The strangest part about the Boeing 797 myth is the way Boeing is handling the idea. In a typical new plane launch, the Boeing board approves the new plane, and the wheels start turning to make it a reality. Airlines seem interested in the plane because it will decrease costs compared the heavy, older planes they use now yet Boeing is dragging their feet about approving the plane.
Boeing may compress the timeline on this new plane, but it took roughly eight years to design and build the first new plane in their last two offerings. If that’s the case, we may not see the plane nicked the 797 until around 2027. However, many sources think the aircraft may come out as early as 2025. That said, we’re still waiting on Boeing to approve the plane.
What Makes the Plane Codenamed 797 Special?
The current plan for the plane nicknamed 797 is a new mid-range commercial jet. Boeing focused on longer flights for most of the past few decades. Other commercial jet makers did the same, and that left a gap in the midrange jet market. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and 777X opened up many new routes to destinations previously requiring a stop.
While flying longer distances is undoubtedly a big deal in the commercial plane’s market, many passengers and airlines feel differently when they only need an eight-hour or ten-hour flight. Why pay more when a mid-range jet is all you need to make that trip. The reason is these models lost their appeal when Boeing and other plane builders started focusing on longer flights.
The plane codenamed 797 will skip long-range flights and focus on making mid-range flights like a short ten-hour flight from central Europe to the eastern US states. No plane builder sees the midrange market as viable, well, not until now. Midrange planes lost their appeal in the 1980s, and no one focused on them anymore after the big commercial jets took over.
Planes like the Airbus SE take up the slack left by large airliners, and they’re slowly working their way toward dominating the market. We assume this is part of the reason Boeing began developing, or at least planning, a new plane. We take our assumption a little further and consider the nickname 797 is more joke than reality since the plane in question is a midrange plane.
How Much Will It Cost?
Probably the most important thing about this new plane, for Boeing at least, if the potential for a massive inflow of money. This plane is one of only a few aircraft Boeing developed that they intended to make money off of well into the future. The initial purchase price of the plane is about 35 percent of the overall investment owners make over the lifetime of the plane.
Boeing’s global service division stands to create a lot of cash flow from the plane by keeping it serviced and maintained. Airplane sales slow down and speed up much like the housing or automobile markets, but everything on the road or in the air needs service whether it’s old or new. This type of marketing opens up Boeing to a large amount of money to cushion the company against slow plane sales.
Boeing officials predict the initial sales to range from three to four thousand mostly in the Chinese and Indian markets. There’s a greater need for midrange planes in those markets compared to European and US markets. Those numbers might look good on paper, but it takes a long time to build 3,000 or more commercial jets, even mid-range jets.
So, we really don’t know what kind of price tag to put on the plane. We know the initial price is roughly a third of what Boeing expects to earn from each of these new midrange planes if they actually make one at some point. However, according to Boeing the company is developing a new mid-range plane that we should be excited about since it fills a gap no one else has for decades.
What Do We Like About the Proposed 797?
We like the idea that flying on short trips, think less than ten-hours, may get cheaper. Boeing makes great airplanes, and we believe this one will match any current plane they make. It’ll be a mid-range airliner that matches the quality and comfort of any large plane Boeing makes today. We’re also a little excited to see the design or the concept design as well.
When will Boeing Make the 797?
Designing, developing, building, and selling a plane is not like making a new mousetrap. The designers and developers on the engineering team need a lot of time to design a safe plane that flies. We expect to see a metal fuselage and composite wings. Building the plane at low costs and making it lighter weighed heavily on our opinion, but we’re just guessing in the end.
Once the plane has a design, someone somewhere must build it. While that seems trivial, it’s a critical step in making an airplane. For instance, a plane with a metal body won’t get built at the same plant where they build planes with composite bodies. So, that adds a new decision and problem for the engineering and manufacturing teams.
If that wasn’t enough trouble, none of this works with the supply chain. Boeing can’t build a plane if they pay more to get supplies and parts in one area than another. Once they design it and choose where to make it, they have to figure out how to get everything they need to build it. It’s what we may call a vicious cycle, but Boeing builds a lot of planes, and we’re sure they understand it better than us.
Even if Boeing solves all these issues quickly, they still face turmoil with customers in Asia. Customers in Asia want more cargo space than US customers. Commonly, problems like this don’t make much difference except in this case they may prove fatal. The new plane nicknamed the Boeing 797 may sport an oval body which makes it wider than it is tall. This style limits cargo capacity.
For example, and perspective, Asians customers generally want baggage space plus around ten tons of cargo space while US customers prefer baggage areas and about five tons of cargo room. It’s not just a matter of getting a dozen more bags on the plane. To please Asian markets Boeing needs to find a place for five tons of cargo in an oval body that may be wasted space in the US.
Investors seem less concerned about cargo issues and expect Boeing to launch the plane based on the current mystery plans which include the oval body and lower cargo capacity. The plane isn’t targeting the cargo market, so this probably won’t affect sales. The plane isn’t billed as a cargo plane anyway, and it’s unlikely the growing markets in Asia will balk on cargo capacity alone.
Investors may change their tune if Asian customers insist on at least ten tons of cargo space. Adding five tons of room to an oval bodied plane also adds to the initial cost of manufacturing it. That’s like adding enough room to fit three or four average minivans into the plane. The price tag associated with adding that space may end the Boeing 797 before it begins.
If those issues weren’t enough, and we’ve found a ton of reasons this plan may fail, General Electric (GE) expressed concerns about whether or not the plane was worth developing, or at least with a new engine. GE officials don’t seem to believe a new engine for a midrange plane is worth developing. However, Boeing may not choose to go with GE which nullifies their concerns.
We think GE should wait and see the final proposal before jumping to conclusions. Right now, everything is just an idea, and nothing concrete is in the works. Boeing may choose to go with a new engine from Pratt & Whitney or Rolls-Royce for that matter. There’s just not enough information out there to draw conclusions on markets and who needs what just yet.
As of this writing, Boeing’s board still had not approved a new plane like the 797. Right now, there is no 797 or a definite plan to build one. However, Boeing is thinking over a plan to develop two jets that may seat between 200 and 270 passengers. Most of the speculation around the 797 stems from comments Boeing officials and representatives made in respect to those two jets.
It’s unlikely Boeing will decide on the 797 or the jets we think may be the 797 until sometime in 2019 if not 2020. If the board approves the plan to build this midrange plane or planes, the first aircraft probably won’t be on the market until around 2025. Honestly, that’s a short time to wait for a plane that doesn’t currently exist except in theory.
Why do We Need this Midrange Plane?
It’s basic economics that drives the need for a midrange plane that’s designed for that purpose alone. The aircraft we fly on now for short flights or less than 6,000-nautical-miles are old planes and they’re all heavy. Older planes incur more service and maintenance fees. Heavy planes use more fuel, and this translates into higher ticket prices for consumers.
More important than lower ticket prices is safety. Commercial planes get taken care of, and there’s no need to worry about older planes failing in the air. That said, accidents happen, and parts fail all the time. Most of the time we never know about these issues, and they rarely cause a plane to leave the air. However, a new design with maintenance at the front of development may be much safer overall.
US customers may wait in line to see the plane altogether. Historically, Boeing built planes with the intent to market those planes to major airlines. Big airlines replaced their aging fleets with whatever new plane Boeing sold them. This new plane nicknamed the Boeing 797 is likely going to target Asian markets first.
There’s a growing need for midrange planes in India and China. Air travel is starting to make its way toward an affordable rate there, and Boeing probably aims to capitalize on that market. However, the oval body isn’t well suited for the extra cargo space most Asian customers want since the enormous inflows and outflows of online retailers are choking their current shipping methods.
Some Final Thoughts
Boeing did not confirm this new Boeing 797. They talked about a plane jokingly dubbed the 797 by journalists and adopted by Boeing and airplane enthusiasts. They are working on an idea for a midrange commercial jet with an oval body style. Until they officially announce the plan and give the plane a name, the Boeing 797 remains a myth.