Passengers should get excited, too.

June 22, 2017

Boeing gave airlines and airline industry watchers a bit of a surprise this week during the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget with hints about a long-anticipated “middle of market” plane.

The aircraft has been labeled a 797 by industry watchers, based on the numbering sequence the aircraft manufacturer has followed for the seven-series planes since the Boeing 707 was introduced 60 years ago. But Boeing hasn’t formally confirmed the model number or very many details about this plane yet.

So why all the excitement for a plane that is little more than a shadow on a chart?

Related: Watch Two New Boeing Planes Show Exactly What Commercial Jet Can Do

The so-called 797 would fit a gap in the market between the larger 787 and the smaller 737 planes. It could transport around 225 passengers in a two-class cabin, or 260 passengers in a one-class cabin and fly a range up to 5,000 nautical miles.

Courtesy of Boeing

That’s a more cost-effective solution than flying a larger, longer-range planes with more seats to fill: “The aircraft would offer dual aisle comfort with single aisle economics in the mid-2020s, should we decide to develop it,” said Mike Delaney, VP of program development for Boeing.

Delaney said the new plane would have an all carbon-fiber plastic composite fuselage and wings. The “hybrid cross-section” fuselage could be elliptical, leaving more room for seats.

For travelers, the 797 announcement is good news: Having this size of jet available might encourage airlines to add many more city connections. Some routes are impractical to fly direct today because smaller capacity planes can’t get there and flying larger planes with empty seats is a quick way for airlines to go broke. By contrast, the 797 proposal is potentially economical enough to intensify low-fares competition. This means travelers could enjoy more flight options — and cheaper tickets to boot.

Courtesy of Boeing

According to CNN, Boeing expects to sell more than 4,000 of them and has talked to 57 potential customers about the jet-to-be.

For its part, United seemed keen to bring the 797 onboard: “What we've seen so far is very, very interesting to us,” said Andrew Levy, United's chief financial officer. “We certainly hope Boeing launches the airplane. We think there is a need for it.”

But there may be some complications with engines. Bloomberg reports that General Electric would not want to be involved with the program if it had to share the honor with Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce. This came after Boeing’s Kevin McAllister said the aircraft manufacturer had considered three engine proposals. Getting into a battle of engines may seem a bit premature, since we’re still only talking about a plane sketch, but engine considerations are key to the development process.

Courtesy of Boeing

While the potential 797 is up in the air, what we do know is that airlines will need lots more planes over the coming years. Boeing updated its forecast during the Paris Air Show, predicting demand for 41,030 planes by 2036. Most of those planes will be flying in Asia as the region overtakes the U.S. as the top global air travel market.

For now, Boeing is celebrating the huge success of its newest 737 MAX 10 aircraft, which got a very warm reception on the very hot tarmac of Le Bourget.

“The 737 MAX 10 will enable us to continue using larger and more efficient aircraft within our domestic network and better meet the needs of our customers today and into the future,” said Levy at United, which ordered 100 of the aircraft.

“The addition of this advanced aircraft to our fleet will enable us to continue to offer the state-of-the-art flying experience our customers expect when traveling with us,” added Gerry Laderman, United's senior vice president of finance, procurement and treasurer.

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