Boeing has intensified sales discussions on the proposed 787-10 ahead of a formal launch, summoning key customers to closed-door meetings in Seattle over the last two weeks to refine the definition and performance of the double-stretch model.
"We've been kicking up the conversation a bit," Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airlines, says in an interview today on the sidelines of an Aero Club luncheon in Washington DC.
Tinseth avoided a direct answer to a question on whether Boeing's board of directors had approved the "authority to offer" decision on the 787-10. The authority to offer step often precedes a formal launch event in Boeing's process for introducing new products, but not always.
"We're not in a position to launch the airplane," he says. "We're engaged with our customers. We continue to move closer and closer to the launch of the airplane."
One issue in the timing of the 787-10 launch the readiness of Boeing's manufacturing operations, he says. Boeing's commercial division is already working to double 787-8 production to 10 per month by the end of 2013, while also developing the 787-9 for entry into service in 2014 and the re-engined and updated 737 Max in 2017.
"When do we believe that the production system will be ready to accommodate this?" Tinseth asked, citing it as an example of the factors affecting the timing of the launch decision.
Some of Boeing's most influential customers are clearly preparing for an imminent launch decision. Earlier this week, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker expressed interest in converting a portion of its order backlog of 59 787s to the double-stretched 787-10.
Meanwhile, Air Lease (ALC) chairman and chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy and his purchasing management team met with Boeing officials on the 787-10 product definition at least twice in Seattle since the last week of October.
Udvar-Hazy told financial analysts in a conference call last week that Boeing is working to "get that programme kicked off in a very near future".
Udvar-Hazy has been an outspoken proponent of the 787-10 for several months, and still calls its promised performance characteristics as "really good".
Despite his support, Udvar-Hazy still wants Boeing to make one key improvement. The 787-10 has been widely described as having a maximum range of 6,900nm, and that number falls slightly short of ALC's preferences.
"We're talking with Boeing about increasing the range a little more, tweaking the payload characteristics to get it out to about 7,000nm," Udvar-Hazy says.
Tinseth initially laughed when told that Udvar-Hazy had asked for better range from the 787-10. But he said that Boeing has forecasted the range of the 787-10 as between 6,800nm to 7,000nm.
"So, it's right in that range," Tinseth says.
But Tinseth emphasised that Boeing wants to limit the design changes required to develop the 787-10.
"We are focusing on a simple stretch of the airplane and we're going to use the engine technologies that are available at that time," he says.