As aviation leaders mingle in Paris for the indusry’s largest expo, much of the talk centers on a Boeing Co. plane nicknamed “Mom” that doesn’t even exist yet.

The tag is an acronym used internally at Boeing for “middle of market,” a jet that would be sized to fit between current single- and twin-aisle offerings and succeed the discontinued 757.

No matter that it wouldn’t be in service until the 2020s. Just the promise of the first all-new Boeing since the 787 Dreamliner is enough to generate a Paris Air Show buzz, especially with product introductions noticeably absent this year. Lessors, engine makers, airlines and Airbus Group SE are all chiming in on the potential benefits and pitfalls.

“I would argue that certainly there’s a market there,” said David Joyce, chief executive officer of General Electric Co.’s GE Aviation, which is “working on some technologies and some capabilities” for a 757-class plane.

A new jet may seat about 220 people, according to Boeing, which began dribbling out details in the run-up to the Paris fair. That’s similar to the narrow-body 757, which went out of production a decade ago but remains cherished by some airlines for its capabilities on U.S. transcontinental trips and long- haul routes too thinly traveled to justify a bigger aircraft.

‘Very Active’

“We’re in very active discussions with Boeing on the ultimate replacement for the 757,” said Air Lease Corp. CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy, the self-described godfather of jetliner leasing. “Boeing is well aware of our requirements.”

All-new jets don’t come along that often. Before the 787 debuted in 2011, Boeing’s last built-from-scratch model was the 777 in 1995.

Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier estimated Monday that Boeing would have to invest about $10 billion to bring the aircraft on its drawing boards to market. Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner told reporters Tuesday in Paris the Chicago-based planemaker is “still in the data-gathering stage.”

The sales potential is strong, but Boeing won’t share its market estimates, according to Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing and sales. Airbus has pegged potential demand in the middle-of-the-market category at about 1,000 jets — and attacked Boeing on the flank left open when it dropped the 757.

Sharklets, Tanks

Airbus added wing fins dubbed sharklets on the largest single-aisle model, the A321, to extend its range. It created the A321neo Long-Range, featuring an extra fuel tank, and updated its smallest wide-body, the A330, to boost efficiency. It’s not above crowing about the changes.

“Competition is so strong from us between the A330neo and the A321 that Boeing knows it doesn’t have anything to go up against that,” said Kiran Rao, director of strategy at Airbus. “They’re having to think about doing something new.”

Boeing has been publicly tiptoeing toward the idea of a 757 successor for years while cautioning that any new aircraft would borrow from existing models and not, as CEO Jim McNerney said last year, be a bet on “moon-shot” breakthroughs.

“Whatever happens in the future with Boeing we are going to keep a very close eye on,” Air Astana CEO Peter Foster said in an interview at the air show, where the Kazakhstan-based carrier agreed to add A321neo Long Range jets under lease.

Mom Aircraft

Boeing’s challenge: How many airlines would pay a premium for new engines and operating efficiencies over the upgraded A321s? Even when the 757 was being built, Boeing found many buyers made do with either its largest 737 jet or a small wide- body, squeezing the room to sell a Mom aircraft.

“You have to make sure if you do build an airplane like this that it’s not over-engineered and therefore overpriced,” said CEO Aengus Kelly of lessor AerCap Holdings NV. “It’s not a long-range airplane. It’s not going to be a traditional wide- body aircraft, so you can’t charge those prices. That’s not the mission anyone wants.”

Even if Boeing were ready to commit now — which it isn’t ready to do — development would run into the next decade, ensuring more air-show gossip and speculation.

The Dreamliner’s three-years-late first delivery followed Boeing’s go-ahead in 2003 to start offering the 787 for sale. Just crafting an engine for the new Boeing probably would take five years, said Safran SA CEO Philippe Petitcolin, whose company is a partner with GE in engine-maker CFM International.

“I don’t think we are that close to a decision, not in the next 18 months to two years,” Petitcolin said. “We are in the early, early stages.”

–With assistance from Andrea Rothman in Toulouse and Christopher Jasper in London.

 

This article was written by Julie Johnsson and Richard Clough from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Photo Credit: An American Airlines Boeing 757 passenger jet. Airlines are looking for the next generation of 757s. Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press