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Boeing considers restarting B797 program from scratch

Seattle, Washington - Boeing is revising the design of its long-awaited New Mid-market Airplane (NMA) due to the shifting market needs and heightened focus on the automated flight control functions followed by two deadly 737 MAX crashes.

On Jan 22, Boeing chief executive David Calhoun said the US manufacturer would restart to study on the New Mid-market Airplane (NMA) from scratch and take a different approach in the design of the aircraft this time.

We are going to start with a clean sheet of paper, again,

Calhoun said.

Boeing's new chief executive also said the primary focus of the company would be the safety and engineering functions of the existing products starting from the troubled 737 MAX series jets. Boeing began working on the NMA program several years ago. The aircraft, which is dubbed as the Boeing 797, was supposed to accommodate up to 270 seats and have 4,000-5,000nm (7,400-9,300km) flight range.

Boeing's initial plan was to introduce the aircraft to the market in mid-2020 when airlines exactly begin to phase out their older generation Boeing 757 and 767 jets in their fleets. But, Calhoun calls that market needs have changed since then and the NMA program requires reevaluation.

Things have changed a bit… The competitive playing field is a little different, we have to plan for China,

said Boeing's boss.

Boeing was planning to officially launch the NMA program during the Paris Air Show last year. But it currently seems not to be a priority for Boeing since it has a hard time to return the 737 MAX into service. Boeing assigned all its engineers working on the NMA to the 737 MAX program to expedite the return of the aircraft.

Calhoun also said the design of the B797 must focus on the flight control system and how pilots interact with that system.

We might have to start with the flight control philosophy before we actually get to the airplane. Design decisions related to pilots flying airplanes are very important for the regulator and for us to get our head around,

Calhoun said.

Pilot - Flight Control System interaction became the center point of discussions after two deadly 737 MAX crashes caused by an automated stall-prevention system known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System). In both incidents, MCAS took over the control of the aircraft because of erroneous AOA (Angle and Attack) data from one of the sensors and did not allow the pilots to intervene while forcing the planes to dive severely.

In the meantime, Airbus launched the A321XLR (Extra-Long_Range) program last year at the Paris Air Show. The aircraft, which was introduced as the NMA competitor by the European planemaker, quickly became popular among the airlines, including the major US operators such as American Airlines and United Airlines.

American and United were eyeing B797 to replace their aging Boeing 757 and 767 fleets.