Boeing's mystery plane has the Paris Air Show buzzing

Amid all of the wheeling and dealing, at the 2015 Paris Air Show, the most talked about aeroplane at the event doesn’t even exist yet.

At the heart of the conversation is a replacement for Boeing’s long-serving 757 — known within the industry as “MUM” or “Middle of the Market” jet.

“The Boeing MUM will likely launch by the end of the decade at the latest and enter service sometime during the early part of the 2020s,” Airways News senior business analyst Vinay Bhaskara told Business Insider in an interview.

The plane would likely be a 220-seat jet that’s larger than Boeing’s single-aisle 737, but more compact than the company’s 787-8 Dreamliner.

Although Bhaskara believes the MUM jet will be a single-aisle affair, Boeing executives have hinted that the plane will ultimately be a twin-aisle widebody. That’s backed up by Ascend Flightglobal Consultancy.

According to a white paper by Ascend, the envisioned plane will be able to fly more than 8000km — a 20% gain over the existing 757, which was discontinued in 2004.

However, the MUM will be optimised to make money for airlines on trips of around 4000km.

The upcoming Boeing MUM is also expected to be a “clean sheet design” — developed from scratch, rather than derived from an existing model, Bhaskara told Business Insider.

But there’s a catch.

Boeing’s envisioned MUM doesn’t exist yet.

That’s particularly alarming considering the years of prep work and experimentation that’s required before the launch of a new plane. In fact, in the last quarter century, Boeing has only released two clean-sheet designs: the 777 in 1995; and the 787 in 2011. And the latter’s gestation period proved to be particularly rocky and troublesome, even with more than a decade of prep time.

So will the MUM actually happen?

“Yes,” Bhaskara said, without hesitation.

Boeing doesn’t have a choice. If the company’s current problems in the segment continue, the plane maker may be in deep trouble, Bhaskara added.

What he’s referring to is the struggle of Boeing’s current offering in the MUM segment — the 737Max9 — compared to the Airbus A321neo.

Korean Air Airbus A321neoAirbusKorean Air ordered 50 A321neos at the 2015 Paris Air Show.

The A321neo offers better range, fuel efficiency, and operating costs. And based on Bhaskara’s assessment the A321neo ” is a better plane by a substantial margin.”

As of this month, the A321neo is outselling the Boeing 4 to 1.

Even worse, several Max9 customers have either switched their orders to Boeing’s hot-selling, but smaller 737Max8 or have cancelled them altogether in favour of the Airbus.

But Boeing may be able to reclaim the dominant position the company held in the segment during the 757’s 20-year production life cycle.

There’s certainly demand for the a new clean-sheet MUM jet. American, United, and Delta Airlines currently operate a combined 757 fleet of more than 250 planes. A large number of these planes are more than two decades old and will need to be retired in the next few years, regardless of how much the carriers cherish their abilities.

Many of these aircraft have allowed the airlines to serve short haul routes in highly congested airports or international routes that didn’t generate enough business to justify a larger widebody jet.

Boeing 737-9 MaxBoeingBoeing 737-9 Max

Furthermore, Ascend Consultancy reported that there were 642 routes around the world designated for an MUM-type aircraft in 2014 — routes greater than 2,500 miles. But a large number of those routes were being flown by larger, more expensive, and less fuel-efficient widebody aircraft, such as the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330.

Widebody jets such as the A330 are optimised to for 5,000-mile, long-haul routes, not the 4000-4500km routes they’re currently deployed on, Bhaskara emphasised.

A dedicated MUM aircraft would certainly offer airlines greater levels of efficiency and profitability.

According to Bloomberg, Boeing pegged the overall demand in the MUM segment to be around 1,000 planes, which is roughly the same number of 757s Boeing sold.

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