Assuming as expected, Boeing splits the 100-250 seat aircraft market into two segments with two distinct designs, what should Boeing propose for the 100-150 seat category?
Boeing has to target this aircraft above the Embraer E-190 and E-195 aircraft. This is somewhat eased by U.S. major airline pilots unions, who in their contract cap the largest aircraft a regional partner can use. This "scope clause" is intended to prevent the loss of mainline pilot jobs to lower-paid regional pilots. But is also keeps the 110-130 seat segment firmly with the major airlines, as skipping from 70 seat regional jets to 150 seat mainline aircraft can be to much of a gap to schedule efficiently.
In my last post, I pointed out most domestic first-class passengers don't pay for first class, but instead are coach passengers who are upgraded to first class based on their frequent flier status. This fact makes aircraft like the 767 and MD-80 better for the airlines, because their first class cabins lose only one seat per row. Domestic first class in the 767 uses six-abreast seating compared to seven-abreast in coach. On the MD-80 (and Boeing 717), first class is four-abreast while coach is five-abreast.
If Boeing does create an aircraft to cover the gap between its larger 737s and the 787, that leaves only the lower-end of the 737 market needing a follow-on. An aircraft with a cross-section similar to the MD-80/717 would fit this ideally. In fact, it could easily cover from 100 to 150 passengers. Some improvements could be made, but the current MD-80/717 design is still valid. This aircraft could be timed for a 2015 entry into service, and Boeing could focus on breakthrough engine efficiencies. Range would be less important, as the larger aircraft could address handful of "long thin" routes where longer range 737s are currently being used.
Regarding the MD-80/717 design, a T-tail, rear engine design offers more flexibility for higher bypass engines, or even a rebirth of the "propfans" proposed in the early 1990s.
The five-abreast, single-aisle layout offers faster loading and unloading than the 737s six-abreast single-aisle config. The only negative on this layout is overhead bin space. But there is plenty of time to address the cabin layouts.
For my next post, I will explain why Boeing needs to act now.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4