At Paris Air Show, Boeing Teases the ‘797’

The world’s largest commercial jetmaker offered a glimpse of its upcoming ‘middle-market airplane’ — but everybody’s already calling it the 797.

Boeing 797
A screen shot from Boeing's presentation at the Paris Air Show reveals its "middle-market airplane," which people are already calling the 797.Boeing/CNN

What’s in a name? It turns out, quite a lot. Boeing released an artist’s rendering of its next-generation twin-aisle commercial jetliner at the Paris Air Show this week, giving the world an early look at the planemaker’s “middle-market airplane” – what everybody is justifiably already referring to as the Boeing 797.

Boeing doesn’t launch new commercial jet’s that often, so even though this wasn’t an official launch it’s still being treated as a pretty big deal.

The composite 797 would seat between 220 and 270 passengers. It is predicted to enter service in 2025, filling the gap between the Boeing 737 workhorse and advanced 787. Boeing predicts it could sell up to 4,000 and keep it in service for 20 years.

So now we know what it is, what it looks like, and what it’s likely to be called. Which begs another question: What’s up with Boeing’s strange commercial jet naming convention anyway?

The story is mildly interesting – so, if you’d like to be mildly entertained, by all means read on.

Everybody knows that the first Boeing commercial jetliner was the 707, introduced in 1958. Why that number? The rather simple reason is that Boeing reserved the 700 block of numbers for its commercial jets (the 300 and 400 blocks were propeller airplanes, 500 jet engines, and 600 rockets and missiles). The first in the series should have been the Boeing 700 but the marketing folks didn’t like the ring of that so they called it the 707.

Boeing then decided to call its next plane the 717, which makes sense except for the fact that the next model wasn’t a commercial jetliner but rather a military tanker. So it was redesignated the KC-135.

Next Boeing created the 720, which was really just a slightly modified 707. Then came the 727, which was followed sequentially by the 737, 747, 757, 767 and 777. In the 1990s, Boeing went all the way back to the 717 designation for its single-aisle model based on the MD-95 after it acquired McDonnell-Douglas. Last but not least came the 787 Dreamliner six years ago.

So of course Boeing will name the “middle-market airplane” the 797. What else could they call it?

Perhaps the more pressing question is, what in the world will Boeing call the airplane after that?