Boeing is leaning towards offering the larger of the two proposed new midmarket airplane (NMA) variants first for delivery in 2025 as it nears closing the business case and obtaining board permission for formal authority to offer later this year.

Boeing traditionally leads new product introductions with a baseline variant before launching follow-on stretch versions and, until recently, was expected to follow convention with the NMA, which is being offered in a 225-seat NMA-6X and 275-seat NMA-7X configuration. The shift to prioritizing the larger member of the new family appears to reflect the emergence of the longer range A321XLR, which was officially given the green light by Airbus on June 17.

The A321XLR effectively competes with the 757/NMA-6X market sector, so prioritizing the -7X would also give Boeing an earlier opportunity to access an untapped segment with an all-new design. Airbus has meanwhile said it believes it covers the middle-of-the-market space adequately between the A321 and the A330neo, a strategy which the manufacturer refers to as ‘between a rock and a hard place.’ Initial deliveries of the A321XLR will be in late 2023, two years before the first NMA.

Indications of the manufacturer’s shifting stance on NMA came from General Electric Aviation president David Joyce who said Boeing is likely to “start with the -7 and not the -6.” The engine maker, which is bidding to provide a new 50,000 lb.-plus thrust turbofan from its CFM International joint venture with Safran, says it is working to be sole source supplier.

Joyce said Pratt & Whitney is also pursuing a similar course with a variant of the PW1000G geared turbofan, Rolls-Royce having withdrawn its UltraFan geared engine earlier this year. “The size of the market doesn’t support the investment of two engine makers,” Joyce said.

Although declining to talk about specific family variants, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Kevin McAllister said the business case studies continue for NMA and that “once completed we will make a decision.” He added that Boeing is trying to “drive as much of the definition of the program as far left as possible. And that’s what we’ve done in the NMA.” The focus remains on the “opportunity to bring an airplane that really is sized to the middle of the market; 20% greater in seats or in range versus today’s 757 family. So for us it is making sure that we’ve got the production system lined out correctly.”