Boeing Co. (BA) is speeding up efforts for upgrades of the twin-aisle 777 jet, including a roomier interior, raising the possibility that the revised model will be introduced before the stretch version of the 787.
“On the 777-X, things are accelerating,” Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s marketing chief, said in an interview yesterday at the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading conference in Orlando, Florida. Boeing named Bob Feldman as the head of the program last week, which “shows how important this project is and that we’re making good progress,” Tinseth said.
Customers including Emirates airline, the biggest 777 buyer, have urged Boeing to commit quickly to the 777-X, which is targeted to enter service by decade’s end. As Boeing works to end the Dreamliner’s grounding, Tinseth left open the prospect of the 777-X coming ahead of the 787-10 version.
“When it comes to the 787 right now, we’re focused on getting that plane back in the air, and until we do, other things take a back seat,” he said. Of the two models’ upcoming variants, “which one gets launched first or second, we’ll just have to see how that plays out,” Tinseth said.
Boeing has described the 787-10 as a so-called simple stretch of the 787-9 Dreamliner, the follow-on to the 787-8 model that began reaching airlines in 2011. For the 777-X, the Chicago-based planemaker plans to widen the interior of the fuselage, give it new engines and enlarge the wing, building it out of composite materials instead of aluminum.
The 777 is Boeing’s biggest twin-engine model, with a top list price of $315 million. The largest of the current versions seats about 450 passengers.
“We think there’s ways to provide more space and a bigger cabin for the customer without changing the outside dimensions of the airplane” as far as width goes, Tinseth said. “We’re looking for a more comfortable 10-abreast.”
The plane will be lengthened, and Boeing is still consulting with airlines to determine how many seat rows to add.
“The configuration is looking good,” Tinseth said. “The big question is affordability and the business case, making it affordable for us to build and the airlines to buy.”
Boeing gained 0.7 percent to $84.75 at the close in New York, its highest value since May 2008. The shares have risen for the last seven trading sessions. The planemaker won U.S. approval to test its proposed fix for the battery faults that have kept the Dreamliner grounded since Jan. 16.
With the upgraded 777, Boeing is vying to keep its lead over Airbus SAS in twin-aisle jets as the European planemaker develops its competing A350.
Airlines that operate the current 777, and are anxious for improvements in range and fuel efficiency, have been watching closely over the past year as Boeing has pushed back its plans to begin offering the plane. Former Boeing Commercial Airlines President Jim Albaugh said a year ago that he’d seek board approval for the 777-X by the end of 2012.
Tim Clark, chief executive officer of Dubai-based Emirates, said in February that he didn’t expect Boeing to start selling the plane for another six to nine months, which would put its official go-ahead about a year behind plan. He offered a different view last week, saying he expected Boeing’s board to give a green light within weeks.
Boeing generally seeks the board’s authority to offer a new model to airlines first and then, once it has customers lined up, commits to producing the plane, which is called the “launch.” The board gave its initial authority to offer the 787-10 late last year, allowing Boeing to start trying to line up customers.
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