“There may not be a 797-X if Boeing carries on like this” say analysts

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There’s been much said and written about the 737MAX – which has now been grounded for six months and looks set, at least for the majority of airlines, to be out of action at least for the remainder of 2019.

With the exception of the predatory IAG order for 200 aircraft, Boeing hasn’t logged a single new customer order. Even with its begging bowl out and the company in desperate straights over this particular aircraft, nobody but IAG has made an order for what could potentially be the bargain of the decade.

That loss of income and the lack of qualified and experienced development engineers at Boeing these days (most of them were let go years back now, as the company changed direction to being entirely profit motivated), has left Boeing only capable of dealing with its slowed 777-8/9 programme and the 737MAX.

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Lufthansa’s first 777-9 is already on the production line – no engines are ready and no test flights have even started yet and won’t until as late as March next year.

The 777-8/9 is, I’ve been told undergoing a complete review. Boeing are using the delays to the GE Engines to quietly review the entire aircraft computer code and and structural engineering so that it doesn’t have issues. Meanwhile early aircraft are already, slowly trundling down the line.

And all of this means income for the civil aircraft side of the business, is at record lows. Only the 787 continues to be delivered in any numbers – 777F production is being stepped up, just as 777-300ER production is winding down, just 10 are due for delivery across 2019.

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BA is due to take three of the last 777-300ER’s

With money tight and engineering – real engineers not coders who’ve appropriated the title – stretched, the 797-X (or NMA as Boeing still call it), has very much taken a back seat.

Speaking to analysts who were privy to the Boeing briefing a few months ago, they tell me that Boeing estimated then it was 65% likely it would go ahead. Airlines like United were especially keen, so were others, like Qatar.

Now those very same analysts are saying – publicly – that it’s less than 50-50 it will happen. Boeing officially are trying to say it will still be airborne by 2025-26, but most think that’s unlikely and see it as 2027 if it goes ahead. With a $15-20 billion development price tag, that sort of commitment is not where the company is right now.

More to the point, the 757 operators are looking for replacements sooner – they might wait for 2025 but they won’t wait longer and the A321Neo, LR and XLR are all there ready and waiting.

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Face the facts the MAX is dead? Or is it? Should a replacement be the priority?

When the question “what if they forgot about the 797-X, and went for what they should have done in the first place – a new single aisle 737 replacement?” is asked, the same thing happens. Everyone sees the case – and it would steal a jump on Airbus – never mind the brand damage to the MAX that’s seen by some as almost irrecoverable. There’s a lot to be said for changing tack, and surprising everyone with something game changing. It would seize the initiative in the biggest market sector of all, just as the 787 did.

But does Boeing have the balls to do it? This would be their 21st Century 747 moment. Yet it’s not that company anymore. Risk averse and profit orientated, easy money is a better bet than taking even the slightest gamble, even a calculated one.