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Aviation: Airbus counters Boeing NMA

Over the last couple of years, a great deal has been said about Boeing developing an aircraft variously referred to as the 'New Midsize Aircraft' (NMA) or 'Middle of the Market' (MOM) [aircraft] that will fit between current narrowbodies such as the 737 MAX and the widebodied 787. Firm specifications have yet to be revealed and a launch is not expected until into next year, but plenty of details have emerged. The new aircraft is expected to be a twin-aisle design capable of seating between 220 and 270 passengers, carrying them 4,800 to 5,200 miles. A stretched version with slightly less range is also likely. The aircraft is expected to use new-generation 40,000lb turbofan engines with shortened inlet nacelles to reduce noise. Advanced technology and composites similar to those used in the 787 will be employed throughout the structure. Boeing claims the aircraft has the potential to replace aging 757s and 767s still form the backbone of some long-haul fleets. Forecasts suggests a total market in the category of up to 5,000 units, from which Boeing hopes to take 50-60% of the orders. The airframer has been talking to a number of major airlines with US carriers including United seen as frontrunners to place order start to be accepted.

The Boeing NMA (black) will sit between the 737 MAX10 and the 787-8 (Boeing)

Clearly Boeing won't have things all its own way as Airbus will not sit back at let its rival have the market to itself. Indeed, even the US manufacturer's projections anticipate that Europe will win a fair share of the business. However, there are no sounds coming out of Toulouse suggesting that Airbus is working on a similar concept to the MOM. Nevertheless, over the last few weeks details of potential Airbus projects have emerged which point to it using a different approach to meet demand.

Challenging from below

The first A321neoLR has just been handed over to an airline customer, Arkia of Israel. It is an extended-range version of the extremely popular narrowbody which is capable of seating almost 240 passengers. But even this new derivative will struggle to carry that many customers over some of the most lucrative routes - 4,600 miles is as good as it gets, but 4,000 miles is more realistic with a reasonable payload, which is just about adequate for western Europe to the east coast of the USA. Some of the airlines that have signed up will deploy it with a mixed cabin including business class seats which will reduce occupancy to 170-200 and make fuel planning on longer missions a little less critical, but others will want a full complement of paying passengers on board. Airlines currently operating the 757, including Aer Lingus and Air Astana, have already signed up for the A321LR and others will use it as a substitute for widebodies. Meanwhile a few airlines have been asking for even more range.

With the capacity of the A321 already pushing into MOM territory, now it seems that Airbus is studying what has been dubbed the A321XLR which will include another extension of the range envelope by 700 miles to around 5,000 miles. Putting more fuel tanks in the belly will reduce the space available for bags and cargo, but it should enable the aircraft to comfortably operate year round from mid-Europe to North America or haul a full load of tourists from the southern cities of Australia well into Asia. It is reported that the current neo engines and wing will be adequate for the A321XLR, but Airbus is currently evaluating the market and is expected to make a launch decision next year.

Pushing down from above