Boeing’s pursuit of the mid-market plane, often referred to as the Boeing 797, has taken an interesting turn under the leadership of David Calhoun, the company’s president and CEO.
After taking office, Calhoun ordered a halt to the existing design and initiated a fresh start. The focus has now shifted towards a high-span, braced-wing aircraft design being developed in collaboration with NASA.
In a recent meeting with the international press prior to the Le Bourget airshow, Calhoun expressed optimism about the potential application of this technology in the next aircraft. However, he acknowledged that there is still a significant amount of work and testing to be done before the design can progress.
Boeing, like many other companies in the aviation industry, has faced challenges due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The loss of employees and the crisis itself have had an adverse effect. Calhoun mentioned that they are delivering fewer Boeing 737 MAX aircraft than expected due to a recent issue identified by Spirit Aerosystems, the producer of the aircraft’s fuselage. However, he anticipates resolving the problem and increasing deliveries by the end of July.
Rebuilding trust in the Boeing 737 MAX is a top priority for Calhoun. Despite the aircraft’s successful operations with over 1,000 units in flight and more than 1.7 million accident-free flights, he acknowledged that the crisis surrounding the MAX was self-inflicted. Calhoun emphasized the importance of ensuring every future aircraft meets reliability and safety standards.
Boeing has faced a series of challenges that have put the company in a difficult position, but signs of recovery are starting to emerge. The closure of the B-747 assembly line in Everett has opened up space for a new line of Boeing 737-10s, and the production line for the B-787 in Charleston is being modified to increase the production rate to 10 planes per month.
However, supply chain issues continue to affect the production process, and Calhoun expects these challenges to persist for the next five years. He highlighted the need to help suppliers recover and get back to their previous capacity.
When questioned about the competition posed by the Chinese C919, Calhoun urged for calm, acknowledging China’s growing power in aviation. He expressed confidence in Boeing’s ability to stay ahead by investing in new technologies. Calhoun emphasized the importance of focusing on existing competition and positioning Boeing to win the technology race.
Regarding future aircraft development, Calhoun emphasized the need for programs to incorporate radical technological advancements rather than incremental improvements. He justified his decision to restart the mid-market plane program, stating that such programs must be designed to last several decades to ensure long-term profitability.
Boeing, in collaboration with NASA, is studying a transonic braced-wing aircraft design that, combined with advancements in engines, systems, and materials, could potentially reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by up to 30% compared to current models. The first prototype of this design is expected to take flight around 2028.
As Boeing navigates the challenges and opportunities ahead, the company aims to regain trust, overcome supply chain issues, and continue investing in innovative technologies. The future of Boeing’s aircraft development holds promise, but the path forward requires careful planning and execution.