The Boeing 797 – a mid-range jet that's expected to change both domestic and international business travel in Australia – is now likely to launch in 2019, although it won't actually take wing until 2025.
In Boeing's parlance a "launch" means offering the jet to airlines, although it'll still be a 'paper plane' which exists on the drawing board rather than on the assembly line.
And that launch is now tipped to happen in the next 12-18 months, says Boeing CEO Dennis Mullenburg.
"We don’t feel rushed to make a decision," he told The Financial Times ahead of this week's Farnborough air show this week. Mullenberg added that he "would anticipate to make a launch decision next year," which would "be consistent with a 2025 entry into service."
Flying into the sweet spot
Still officially labelled as a 'middle of market' jet, but widely expected to be christened the Boeing 797, the aeroplane would be larger than the Boeing 737 MAX series but smaller than the Boeing 787.
The seat count of the twin-aisle Boeing 797 is expected to be around 220 passengers assuming a two-class layout of business and economy, or as many as 270 in the all-economy floorpan favoured by low-cost airlines.
Boeing plans to build two variants of the 797, says Boeing marketing vice president Randy Tinseth. "One will be bigger and fly not quite as far, one will be smaller and fly farther."
Its range would top out at 10-11 hours, which for Australia – and potential customer Qantas – would encompass popular Asian routes such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai.
However, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has also talked up the opportunity for the Boeing 797 to take over flights on the busy Sydney and Melbourne corridor as well as domestic east-west routes.
While Sydney-Melbourne is a billion dollar route for Qantas, it's also a highly congested one.
“We’re now at the cap of 80 movements an hour for four or five hours every day already," Joyce told Australian Business Traveller in late 2017 on board the airline's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
"By 2026, when this aircraft is proposed to be produced, the airport will probably completely full by then. So the way to grow will be bigger and bigger gauge aircraft," with the added appeal of the Boeing 797 being able to do its 'turn-around' from inbound to outbound flights as fast as the Boeing 737.