With its 787 a year in service, Boeing appears to be bearing down on a launch decision for its proposed 777X - intended to refresh its highly successful twinjet programme and render obsolete the Airbus A350-1000, due for first delivery in 2017.
Several airlines, including Emirates and Qatar Airways, have expressed interest in the 777X, which will stretch the fuselages of the existing 777-200ER and 300ER. The new aircraft will also have new engines and composite wings, and is intended to deliver a fuel-burn improvement of at least 10%. An end-of-decade service entry date is in prospect.
Boeing is studying options to revamp its hot-selling 777 twinjet
On the decision between delivering a product sooner or holding off to include newer technology, Boeing vice-president of business development and strategic integration Nicole Piasecki has said: "Our customers are really comfortable with our decision to put the most advanced engine technology onto this 777, and that means, by definition, that's really end of [the] decade. Are we comfortable with that? Yes. Because it's going to be so much better. It's going to [render] obsolete the A350-1000 before the A350-1000 is even delivered."
Emirates president Tim Clark has called on Boeing to "get the job done" on the 777X, and is keen on the proposed new aircraft replacing 777-300ERs set to exit the fleet circa 2017.
But while former Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Jim Albaugh had said the airframer was targeting a board launch decision by end-2012, his successor Ray Conner has moved away from upholding this timeline.
In an August letter, Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia referred to what he calls Boeing's "back-pedalling", saying: "Boeing maintains that the 777-300ER is as good, if not better, than the A350-1000, and therefore, it can delay the 777X. The 777-300ER may be a superb plane, but the market still prefers newer models." Pointing out that Cathay, a major 777 operator, had defected to the A350-1000, Aboulafia added: "That was a predictable event, and more defections are likely."
However, speaking in September, Piasecki was non-committal: "We are not being specific on timing; we do have some more work to do."
Meanwhile, Boeing has - remarkably - managed to rack up more net orders for the 767 than for the 777 so far this year, thanks to FedEx's 15-unit 767-300F order, logged in June.
In July, rival Airbus unveiled a programme aimed at improving the performance of its A330 family by raising the maximum take-off weight of the type in order to increase its competitiveness against the Boeing 787.
The airframer raised each A330 model's weight to 240t - from 238t for the -200 and 235t for the -300 - to offer greater range and payload capability, first on the -300 and subsequently on the -200 and -200F.
The 240t -300 will offer 400nm (740km) extra range with 300 passengers and carry nearly 5t more payload than its 235t predecessor. The 240t -200 will fly 270nm further with 246 passengers and carry over 2.5t more payload than the 238t version. Entry into service of the boosted -300 is due in mid-2015.
- Additional reporting by Ghim-Lay Yeo