Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Scott Carson announced today that Boeing will be making a decision within the next eighteen months about its plans for the 737RS. Entry into service would still be around 2015 or so. Boeing is clearly striking while the iron is hot. With Airbus scaling back it R&D costs because of the weak dollar, Boeing is going full steam ahead with plans for a new single-aisle program.
One distinct challenge here, is that Boeing has significant resources devoted to the three new programs right now: 787 taking the lion share of the most experienced engineers, the 747-8 and the 777F. However, I can promise you that deep in the depths of Boeing there are white boards being scribbled on, pots of coffee being brewed and visionaries at work. For the sake of full disclosure, beside flight testing, the "idea" phase is the one that is a personal favorite of mine. Watching "an idea" become something that defies gravity is a feat deserving of nothing but enormous respect.
According to those involved in developing new commercial products, it appears that the attitude inside Boeing is that the competitor isn't Airbus, but rather the 737NG itself. The task, and it is a big one, is to unseat its own hot-selling product while providing significant improvements in fuel consumption, noise, comfort and range.
The magic number here is 20. Come up 20% increase in fuel efficiency or it just isn't worth it to develop an entirely new product.
This is not going to be easy - but who ever said it was supposed to be?