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“Middle of the market” a hot topic at Paris Air Show

By Steven Luo June 16, 2015 No Comments Print Share

PARIS — Everywhere you go at this year’s Paris Air Show, one topic is on everyone’s minds: is there demand for a “middle-of-the-market” airplane — larger than the workhorse 150-seat A320s and 737-800s, smaller than international long-haul aircraft such as the 787 and A330 that seat 250 or more?

“We have been in discussions for a number of years” with customers about such an airplane, says Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner. “It’s a nice-sized marketplace.” With its 180-seat 737-9MAX being badly outsold by Airbus’s slightly larger A321neo, speculation about a new airplane design in that segment centers on Boeing.

Not too surprisingly, then, Airbus sales chief John Leahy is less interested in building such an aircraft, saying that he believes the A321neo is the perfect airplane for the class.

Speculation about this market segment has historically centered on a replacement for Boeing’s 757 — a 180-200 seat aircraft, popular with North American airlines, capable of flying 4000 nautical miles.  But in recent weeks, the conversation has shifted to discussing a larger, more capable plane — a 240-seat aircraft with 5,000 miles range.

A brand-new plane in that size would require an engine sized to output between 40,000 and 50,000 pounds of thrust — again, falling into the gap between smaller and larger engines existing on the market today, engine maker General Electric believes.

It’s about “being ready with the technology options” if the planemakers come calling, said Tony Wood, president of competing engine maker Rolls Royce’s aerospace division. Rolls Royce’s recent strength has been in the upper end of the civil airliner market, but the company could also be asked to supply engines for such a plane.

The conversation regarding such a plane has shifted so rapidly, in fact, that one reporter asked Boeing’s Conner whether discussion of the middle-of-market plane was more “heat” than “light” — in other words, whether speculation was outpacing reality.

In any event, new airplane programs go through lengthy gestation periods, and with the requirements still fluid, it would be several years before any new middle-of-the-market plane takes to the skies.

It’s “too early to comment” about such a plane, said Pratt & Whitney president Paul Adams, who runs the other large airplane engine manufacturer.

Contact Steven Luo at sluo@californiabeat.org.

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