Following yesterday's comments from Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, it is becoming increasingly clear that Boeing is inching closer and closer toward the implementation of a decade-long strategy to bring a derivative 777 and clean-sheet 737 replacement to market.
The clearest signs yet came yesterday with comments from McNerney that the airframer has all but abandoned re-engining the 737 and instead sees a replacement for its high-volume narrowbody:
If we could come up with the right airplane in roughly the 2019, 2020 timeframe, I personally feel that there's a strong argument that the market will wait for us, not withstanding the re-enginging. Most of the feedback we're getting from customers is alignment with that, but we've got to work through this year what the airplane, more precisely, will look like.
Putting our backlog at risk twice, only makes sense if the airplane wants to be developed in 2025 or beyond. I think what we're learning today about what our customers need and what technologies we have available to us, we are leaning toward development in the 2020 timeframe, but we're going to confirm that as we go through it this year, reserving the option - if we're wrong - as we go through the analysis to re-engine. But I don't think it's going to go that way.
While Virgin America has solidified its role as launch customer for the Airbus A320neo, the competition between the European airframer and Bombardier almost included a third contender, in the form of an all-new aircraft from Boeing, industry sources tell FlightBlogger.
Virgin America says no bid by Boeing was submitted and Boeing as a policy doesn't discuss its dealings with customers or potential customers.
Virgin's commonality-driven competition was unlikely to go Boeing's way, though the timeframe for such an offer of an all-new jet appears to have been "too late" to have been a contender, though it is the airframer's most advance step yet toward formally offering a new aircraft.
While Boeing's earnings call yesterday did not directly address specifics on upgrades to the 777, reading between the lines of McNerney's comments point to new mid-decade derivatives of the company's largest twin jet.
McNerney says fully replacing a 777 and 737 would not come simultaneously and calls the avoidance of such an overlap as "one of the independent variables in the equation." For the coming research and development expenditures required for such a project, Boeing's CEO references "derivatives", but mentions only one specifically, a further stretch of the 787.
New airplane developments, except for the possible derivatives, a -10 would be an example of that, I think those interests tend to be...the derivatives would tend to be in the second half of the decade and then new airplanes would be at the end.
However, Emirates, Boeing's largest 777 customer, says it will begin retiring its older 777s (-200s, -300s and -200ERs) starting in 2017 and hopes to replace each one with 70 777-300ER-sized aircraft (354 seats) for non-payload restricted missions like Dubai to Los Angeles. To meet this requirement and timeline, new 777 variants will be required in the latter part of the decade to meet the carrier's target.
The extent of the changes remains mightily unclear, though company sources say a common type rating is essential for the next evolution of the widebody, just as it was for the Next Generation 737. Changes ranging from basic fuel burn, manufacturing and maintenance cost improvements all the way to ambitious plans for an all-new composite wing, an additional stretch in a fuselage - also potentially composite - and a major update to the General Electric GE90-115B engine are all on the table.
Ultimately, say company sources, McNerney comments reflect Boeing's long term commercial business plan, which establishes a development path from the 787-8 and 747-8 freighter and Intercontinental delivering in 2011 and 787-9 in 2013; clearing the way for a 787-10 in 2015/2016, an updated 777 in 2017/2018 and concluding with a clean sheet 737 replacement in 2019/2020.