Dawn of the Narrow Bodies

Boeing 737 MAX

Airbus A320 Neo

Embraer E-175 E-190 E-195 E2

Bombardier CS100 CS 300

Irkut MC-21


It gives me much pleasure to be able to confidently say that this is an exciting time in commercial aviation. Frankly, it is an unprecedented time of growth in the industry. Towards the end of the 20th Century, the regulations, complexities and expenses of commercial aviation saw a loss and monopolization of aircraft manufacturing companies worldwide. With the advent of jet engines, the technicalities and engineering of commercial airliners shot up to another realm from the radial engine classics like the DC-3. Often, manufacturers were betting the entire future of their companies on their latest product design and latter 20th century recessions gave negligent aid, leaving no second chances if the plane turned out to be a flop. Therefore winners bought out losers, and monopolization came into full effect. On the other side of the coin, the only countries that could come close to manufacturing these wondrous ocean liners in the sky, were those with the technical and economic reserves to do so, the victors of World War II. In summation, these factors have led the world to a very finite group of commercial aircraft manufacturers with the glimmer of diversity looking bleaker by the day. It is by that statement that I am proud to announce the contrary as of the 21st century. The key to reverse this downward spiral is simply, globalization.

Not to delve into international economics, but the latter portion of the 20th century and thus far into the 21st, has seen a distribution of wealth, education and industry throughout the world and amongst countries that previously had none. This is a key element of globalization. In short, this phenomenon has paved the way for aircraft manufacturers to pop up in developing countries. The other essential key of this trend is demand. With globalization, more people have more resources, reasons and interests to travel. Therefore, we see a steep increase in airline passengers year after year, and an unimaginable projected spike in the near future. The international professional service firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) predicts an increase of 33, 260 commercial airliners in the next 17 years, valuing $4 trillion[1]. It is of no surprise that manufacturing firms are taking their first steps in airliner manufacturing, to take part in the gold rush.

Of all the airliner classes, the most profitable projected by a substantial margin that is the single-aisle jets. There is an estimated 24,570 to be produced in 17 years[2]. This is the class of narrow body, single-aisle 100-200 seat, medium range planes of 2,000- 4,000nm. Unsurprisingly, this is the class where there is much growth. At the end of the 20th Century, the main producers of airplanes in this class were Boeing with the 737 and Airbus with the A320. Today we see multiple companies, from many nations vying for their share of this market. In Brazil, Embraer took at step above their regional turboprop commuters and developed the E-Jets. Although, at the smaller end of the narrow-body class, they are redesigning their E-Jet family (E-175, E-190, E-195) to the E2 jets to be overall more cost effective and higher passenger occupancy for two of the three models. All these modifications are to cater towards the upcoming escalation of commercial air travel. Canada’s Bombardier is rising from its previous stature of regional jet manufacturer. They are in development of the C-series (CS100, CS300) of narrow bodies, the CS100 being in the lower portion of the class and the CS300 in the core to compete directly with Airbus and Boeing. The CS100 took its first flight in 2013. China has emerged to compete with their Commercial Aircraft Company of China (COMAC) C919. COMAC is in advanced stages of their first plane, the ARJ21 regional jet, and currently is attempting to break into the medium range class. COMAC markets their plane to be a cost effective solution to the more pricey 737s and A320s. The unit price is projected to be $10 million less than the cheapest Airbus or Boeing. Finally, Russia is updating their historical presence in narrow-bodies by Irkut’s MC-21. While Russia already has a plane that fit the specifications of this narrow body class, Tupolev’s 204, the Tu-204 was designed to be a direct competitor to the 757, thus it is on the larger fringes of the class and far less economical than the 737 and A320. On the other hand, the MC-21 promises to be a direct competitor to the current narrow-body medium range jets, with its smaller, lighter, and modern airframe and engines.  

Needless to say, narrow body medium range airliners are the future of aviation and Boeing and Airbus, who once dominated that market now have many competitors on the horizon. They have taken steps to upgrade their classic designs with the A320 Neo and 737 MAX, both of whom are in development at the present. As all these manufacturers approach the advanced stages of testing, and final orders are placed it will be no mystery that Boeing and Airbus will still be on top for sales in the coming decade, but it will be interesting to see where the other manufacturers find their niche and how their planes perform in service. Where will their potential successes take them in the future, eventually up to the ranks of the two current giants? This dawn of narrow-bodies has opened up an international arms race type fervor in commercial aviation, reinvigorating diversity back into the industry.  

[1] http://www.pwc.com/us/en/industrial-products/commercial-aircraft-industry-future/globalization-new-markets-and-manufacturers.jhtml

[2] ibid

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