My thoughts on an updated Boeing 767

Rumours circulating around social media for the last couple of days have pointed to Boeing placing new engines on it’s tried and tested 767 aircraft.

Using the GENX engine currently found on the companies 787 Dreamliner aircraft, the project does have a hint of Airbus A320neo about it.

Whilst no passenger 767 aircraft have been delivered since mid-2014, the type is still available to order. The freight version however is still proving popular with both FedEx and UPS having orders for 60 aircraft between them.

Boeing has produced over 1100 767 aircraft since its launch in 1982, the majority of which are still in service. So it is obviously a solid product.

Whilst the article from FlightGlobal.com states that the Cargo version will be the primary market for a re-engined 767, it also states that a passenger version is being studied.

Would an updated passenger 767 work though?

The good

It’s a classic plane

Despite the new generation Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 boasting fancy mood lighting, the latest and greatest entertainment facilities and advertising that the new cabin makes you feel more refeshed when you arrive at your destination, they still feature new generation economy cabins.

In short, they’re tight! Despite Boeing intending their 787 to have 2x4x2 seating down the back, the airlines discovered they could squeeze 3x3x3 seating in instead and as such, this makes for a far more cozy ride when you have a neighbour. The only exception to this is Japan Airlines, who have gone with the intended 2x4x2 layout. 787 launch customer All Nippon initially went with 2x4x2 seating, but have since reconfigured to the more popular 3x3x3.

Airbus advertise their A350 as having an eXtra Wide Body, however from a pair of flights on the type this year, I can only assume they mean in comparison to the 787. All airlines so far have gone with 3x3x3 seating on their A350’s, and again, I found it wasn’t the most spacious plane out there.

The same argument could be made of the Boeing 777 too. Whilst being of the slightly older generation, the airlines have taken to ditching the 9 abreast seating in favour of a more profitable 10 abreast on the aircraft.

Being of an older generation however, the 767 is in a far more passenger friendly 2x3x2 layout in economy. I flew a United Airlines 767 between Chicago and London in April 2019 and it was far more spacious than the Airbus A350 I flew on a few days previously.

United Airlines 767 economy cabin
United Airlines 767 economy cabin
United Airlines 767 economy cabin
United Airlines 767 economy cabin

Of course, there’s nothing to say the airlines won’t try and squeeze an extra seat into a relaunched 767, but with many still in operation, the chances are they would have tried it already.

Boeing need something tried and tested

Lets face it, the last few aircraft Boeing have launched haven’t exactly gone well. The 787 was grounded for a period at the beginning of 2013. And of course, the 737MAX problems have been well documented. Even the upcoming 777X program has suffered more than a few setbacks.

Therefore, the company really could do with a new aircraft that just works. And with the 767 being well and truly bedded in now, the company should be extremely familiar with the ins and outs of its workhorse.

If, as the FlightGlobal article suggests, the re-engined 767 will take the place of the NMA, then this will save Boeing a ton of money. Most of the work will have already been done, it will simply be a case of modifying a few areas for the new engines as opposed to a clean sheet design.

Commonality

As mentioned above, roughly 75% of the 767’s built (give or take) are still in service. This means that the airlines will be familiar with what they are getting.

Airbus has recently delivered their 1000th re-engined A320. That particular aircraft type entered service in 2016. By comparison, the company didn’t deliver their 1000th original A320 until ten years after the first delivery.

This goes to show that the airlines like to know what they’re getting, whilst having the latest technology.

Once more, in the case of the A320neo, most airlines operate the type alongside their classic fleet, meaning that things can be swapped around far more easily than if they were to go with a completely new type.

From an operations point of view, this is an advantage too. The pilots, cabin crew, engineers and ground staff can operate both the old and new type with just a short conversion course. For the pilots at least, if the airline was to go with a completely new type, it would be a case of one or the other. Not both.

The Bad

It’s a classic plane

I know, this was the first point above. What makes it good from a passenger perspective might not make sense from an airline perspective. Being launched in 1982, the 767 would have been in development in the 1970’s. Sure, you can update the engines to the latest standard. But if in general, the aircraft will be the same as before, then aerodynamics have moved on since then. This is why for the A350, Airbus moved away from their traditional nose section featured on all it’s widebody aircraft and went with a new design. It’s not just the nose section of the aircraft either. Wing design has moved on a long way. Take a look at the Boeing 787 wing tips and then the 767 – there’s a major difference. The same goes for the tail.

It’s all well and good strapping the latest fuel efficient engines to the type. But if it’s not aerodynamically efficient, how much use will the whole process be?

They already tried it

In January 1997, Boeing formally launched an updated 767 product. The -400ER variant featured a stretched fuselage, an updated flight deck, updated landing gear and a 777 style cabin.

Intended to replace the ageing DC10 and L1011 aircraft, by the time the type launched, it had secured just 40 orders. Although three would later be cancelled, as Kenya Airways swapped their order for the larger 777.

Only Continental and Delta ordered the type, all of which remain in service.

The re-engined 767 is stated to be based on the 767-400ER. Why would it fare any better this time around?

They already have a replacement

When Boeing launched their 787 project, it was intended to replace their 767. So why the change of heart? The GENX engine that is slated to be placed on to the 767, was designed for the 787 in the first place.

Many airlines have already started to replace their 767 fleets with the 787, so how why take a backwards step? As seen with the Kenya Airways example above, it would appear that most airlines want to future proof themselves somewhat.

The most logical explanation is that the new 767 would indeed be for the cargo market. The 787 currently doesn’t have a freight option and with its carbon body, converting current aircraft would prove challenging.


Will an updated 767 ever see the light of day as a passenger plane? I just can’t see it. Boeing already stated in 2017 that they looked at re-launching the 767, but found it wasn’t feasible.

As a cargo plane though? Well, maybe. Take a look at the 747. In the past decade, it has proven far more popular with freight operators. Where as the latest passenger version has barely sold.

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