ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — The timing of Boeing's next commercial aircraft program launch has become a point of contention among industry experts and financial analysts during the annual supplier event of Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance near Seattle on Feb. 8.

While some argue that a quick launch is necessary to revitalize the company and regain market share from Airbus, others advocate for a wait-and-see approach, giving time for the company's financial standing and supply chain to become better equipped for the undertaking.

It's evident that the decision facing Boeing involves multiple intertwined considerations, including finance, supply chain, workforce, competition, and technology. The potential consequences of either rushing or delaying the launch are significant. If the launch is executed too rapidly, it could potentially harm the sales of the 737 MAX program, which provides crucial cash flow for Boeing. On the other hand, if the American planemaker delays it too long, it could stay behind Airbus, which already began to dominate the market with the next-gen and long-range variants of its single-aisle jets.

Kristine Liwag, a Morgan Stanley equity analyst, says Boeing shouldn't announce a new airplane until after 2025 or maybe 2027. Launching a program sooner could distressed aircraft manufacturer put in even more distress, she adds.

However, financial analyst Ron Epstein from BofA Securities and industry analyst Richard Aboulafia, who were both present at the event, believe that Boeing should act sooner rather than later. Aboulafia characterizes the company's inaction as a "complete abdication of leadership" on the part of CEO David Calhoun.

According to analysts, the consensus is that Boeing's next aircraft should target the "mid-market" segment, capable of accommodating 220-240 passengers and having a range of 5,000-5,500 nautical miles (9,260-10,186 km). Following this, it is expected that the company would introduce a replacement for its 737 Family jets.

According to industry analysts, a new mid-market aircraft could potentially challenge Airbus's rapidly popular A321neo. The A321neo has allowed the European manufacturer to capture a significant portion of the market previously dominated by Boeing. Capable of accommodating 180 to 230 passengers in a two-class configuration, the A321neo has proven to be a successful choice for airlines operating both short and long-haul flights, including transatlantic routes. With nearly 3,700 orders for the A321neo and the upcoming launch of the longer-range A321XLR variant (expected in 2024 with a range of 4,700 nautical miles), Airbus looks set to maintain its market position.

According to industry experts, there is no aircraft in Boeing's lineup that can compete directly with the Airbus A321neo. However, Boeing denies this claim, contending that the 737 Max 10, which is currently under certification process, is a comparable option. While the 737 Max 10 does boast similar performance specifications, including a range of 3,300 nautical miles and the ability to accommodate 188-204 passengers in two classes, it lags behind in terms of commercial success. Currently, there are only 775 orders for the 737 MAX 10.

In recent years, Boeing had been exploring the possibility of developing a new mid-market aircraft as an alternative to the Airbus A321neo. However, in November 2022, CEO Dave Calhoun stated that no such plans were imminent. He mentioned that the company would first need to make advancements in engine efficiency before even considering the launch of a new aircraft.

Despite these remarks, there have been persistent rumors that Boeing is still secretly working on the mid-market aircraft project. Some analysts speculate that this potential new jet could feature a composite fuselage, folding wing-tips similar to the 777-9 and potentially enter the market in the early 2030s.

However, analysts who are closely monitoring Boeing's financial performance believe that this timeline may be too optimistic.

"Financially, it doesn't make sense to announce something right now," says Ken Herbert, aerospace and defence financial analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

Herbert thinks Calhoun's decision to delay the mid-market aircraft project was a wise move, as it would allow Boeing to maximize sales of the 737 MAXs in the coming years and maintain production of the model well into the 2030s.

Also Read: Boeing Teases a New Jet That Could Replace the 737 MAX