The economics of Boeing’s new midmarket plane — a model informally dubbed the 797 that would carry 225 to 275 people over shorter ranges than the similar-sized 787 — could be “superb,” said Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce.
If you want to start a bitter debate among people in the aviation industry, don’t ask them about Brexit, or Donald Trump, or Aziz Ansari’s sex life. To watch the sparks really fly, talk aircraft sizes. The mother of all battles in recent decades was over jumbo jets: Airbus SE developed its A380 on the assumption that congestion at airports would require more planes that could carry 500 people or more over intercontinental distances, while Boeing Co. essentially argued that the size class it had invented with the 747 was becoming obsolete. Boeing seems to have had the better of that dispute, with both manufacturers now focusing their energies on aircraft like the 787 and A350, which seat around 250 people and allow more daily flights.
The argument now brewing is over shorter-range aircraft. While congestion hasn’t been enough to make airlines fall in love with the A380, it’s becoming a major problem on busier routes. At Sydney Airport, a flight takes off for Melbourne about every 10 minutes, and the airspace between Seoul and South Korea’s Jeju Island is even more crowded. There was a time when high-speed rail was proclaimed as the solution, but the world’s most congested air routes suggest this option has played out. Just six are in the under-700-kilometers range where trains pose a competitive threat — one of those is Tokyo-Osaka, where high-speed rail has been operating for more than half a century. One way of increasing the carrying capacity of these routes would be to make the planes bigger.
Qantas Airways Ltd. mostly serves the Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane triangle — which includes three of the top 25 city pairs globally — with Boeing 737s that carry 174 passengers. Replace those with Airbus’s latest A321 variant in a 206-seat layout, and you could shift the same number of passengers with just 85 percent of the landing slots. If you could get 240 people on board, you could get that down to about 73 percent. That sweet spot is becoming the area of most active competition between Airbus and Boeing. Qantas has 45 A321neo planes on order, but Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce was openly beating the drum for Boeing at a conference this week on the fringes of the Singapore Airshow. The economics of Boeing’s new midmarket plane — a model informally dubbed the 797 that would carry 225 to 275 people over shorter ranges than the similar-sized 787 — could be “superb,” he said. That would particularly be the case if it had twin aisles, which would allow passengers to disembark faster than the single-aisle […]