Boeing To Focus On Truss-Braced Wing, Autonomy For Next Aircraft, Calhoun Says
NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina—Boeing’s commercial aircraft development efforts are focused on emerging airframe technologies, such as the truss-braced wing concept and more autonomy, that could lead to a new aircraft available starting in 2035, the company’s President and CEO Dave Calhoun said May 30.
“We have a real shot at that technology,” Calhoun told reporters during briefings at Boeing’s North Charleston facility. He was referring to the truss-braced wing aircraft architecture the company is jointly exploring with NASA. “By 2028, hopefully we will know whether it works,” he said. Calhoun made clear that there are many more technologies the company has begun to explore as it begins to define what its next aircraft could look like. The aircraft should be “something as close to autonomous as we can get to,” he said, emphasizing that Boeing has no plans to “go back to the new mid-market airplane design.” He stressed that “the truss-braced wing is an important technology.”
Whether a new aircraft would be a single-aisle or a widebody design, “that is a decision for later,” Calhoun said. “You have to be patient.”
In November 2022, Calhoun had said that Boeing is not planning to bring a new aircraft to the market over the next several years, a position that has drawn criticism by some aerospace analysts arguing that Boeing was risking giving up further market share to Airbus. But Calhoun argued that “it takes a lot” to develop “a meaningful aircraft that makes a difference.”
Also, in his view, Boeing’s 737 MAX narrowbody program does not need to get back to a 50% market share. “It is not important. I don’t want to suggest that we could not do it, because I think we can,” he said. “The lion’s share of the market share shortfall” stems from the grounding of the MAX and the subsequent slow return of production, Calhoun argued.
Plus, he stressed that “our pipeline is pretty loaded” with ongoing work on the certification of the 737-7, 737-10 and the 777X. He is “not worried on the portfolio level” about falling behind Airbus. A potential A220-500 that would compete directly with the 737-8 “does not give me heartburn. The other guy has to do something substantial. And would you do something in the interim [before launching a new aircraft]? That is the question,” Calhoun said.
Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury has recently also said that the company is looking at a new narrowbody in the 2035-2040 time frame that would use conventional propulsion. Airbus’ ZeroE hydrogen aircraft should also enter service in 2035, according to the company’s plans, but will likely be much smaller than current narrowbodies.
Calhoun played down the threat that may emerge with the Comac C919, which just entered commercial service. “I watched [Chinese aerospace] develop for 25 years,” Calhoun said. “The C919 is a good airplane” that will “satisfy demand in China.” However, he cautioned that it will “take a long while to get production capacity” to where it needed to be. As the C919 is slowly ramping up, “they will continue to invest in technology.”
Boeing does not currently deliver any aircraft to China, and the fate of 737 MAXs on firm order by Chinese airlines is unclear as the country’s carriers slowly bring back grounded 737s to commercial service. Boeing’s position is made more difficult by the current trade and geopolitical tensions between China and the U.S. For Boeing, “life will be okay without China,” Calhoun said. “It’s not the world we wanted, but it will be okay, especially in a world that is supply-constrained.”
Calhoun does not expect the supply chain to stabilize fully before the end of 2024. “Slowly, steadily, the supply chains are rebuilding themselves. But it is really difficult,” he said. “Many suppliers make just one part and are the only ones [doing so].” He emphasized Boeing has “no desire” to buy Spirit AeroSystems, which has been at the center of several high-profile production quality issues on Boeing programs, including the latest hiccup in 737 production as non-standard manufacturing caused the need for rework of around 170 aircraft. Calhoun described the relationship with Spirit as “constructive,” though Boeing is “disappointed with every next issue.” On the other hand, there is “a lot of [collaboration]” and the “capability gaps are solvable.”