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  • Joe Breitfeller

Boeing's new Mid-Market Aircraft (NMA): Weighing the Development of a "Clean Sheet" aircraft.

In the midst of a crisis management disaster, Boeing must decide on the future of their proposed middle-of-market (NMA), dubbed by many "797."

Boeing 737 MAX-10: Photo Courtesy Boeing

Back in 2015, Boeing announced they were studying the possibility of introducing its first all-new aircraft since the 2003 launch of the 787 Dreamliner. The new aircraft study was named NMA for “new middle-of-market” aircraft. Boeing had determined that there would be considerable demand for an aircraft that could fill the gap between their 737 narrow body and 787 Dreamliner, the smallest widebody aircraft in the fleet. The goal was to create an aircraft which could accommodate 220-280 passengers with a range between 4,500-5,000 nautical miles (nm) for delivery in the mid 2020s. Airlines such as American, Delta, United, Alaska and even Southwest expressed interest in the program. The NMA was to be more than just a replacement for the aging 757, out of production since 2005, but a new more capable aircraft in terms of passenger capacity and range.

Airbus 321XLR: Photo Courtesy Airbus

In the meantime, the duopoly wars between Airbus and Boeing continued with new versions of their mainstay narrow body A320/321neo and B-737 models. In 2015 Airbus announced the A321 LR (Long Range) capable of carrying up to 220 passengers with a range of 4,000 nm. In 2017, Boeing launched the B-737 MAX-10, which could accommodate up to 230 passengers with a range of 3,300 nm. Finally, at the June 2019 Paris Air Show Airbus announced the A321 XLR (Extra Long Range) model which will accommodate 220 passengers for a range of 4,700 nm.

Where Does this Leave the Boeing NMA?

Well, this is the question everyone is interested in. After the grounding of the 737-MAX last March, Boeing has been understandably quiet about the future of the NMA program. Even the March rollout of the 777X occurred without the usual fanfare. Looking at the specs of the Airbus A321 XLR, it clearly hits Boeing’s targeted range for the NMA, but falls short of the passenger capacity midrange of 250. There is only so much capacity you can add to a single aisle aircraft before turnaround times become untenable. We believe that both Boeing and Airbus have approached that level with their latest narrow body models.

In our opinion, the only logical conclusion is for the Boeing NMA to be an all new “clean sheet” twin aisle aircraft that fits neatly between the highest capacity/range 737 MAX and 787 Dreamliner. There comes a point when a derivative has evolved into an all new aircraft type, and after over 50 years in service, the B-737 appears to have approached that reality. With over 5,000 orders in the book, Boeing currently has their hands full making sure they get the fixes right. Once this is done, the aircraft will enjoy decades of reliable service for airlines throughout the world. Maybe it’s time for Boeing to leave the 7XX naming convention behind as well. As Boeing surely wants to turn the page on the 737 MAX grounding as soon as possible, it might be a good time to start a whole new chapter for the company as well. Perhaps the company will go back to basics and the NMA will appear as the Boeing 808, rather than the “odds on favorite” 797.

Source(s): Boeing, Airbus