Boeing is still to decide whether to prioritise a 737 or 777 replacement once engineering resources are freed up by the entry into service of the current models in development, the 787 and the 747-8.
"We have to do more for the 777," said James Albaugh, chief executive and president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, at a 16 June lecture in London. Both "incremental and significant improvements" are available to improve the long-haul twinjet family, but how the company will implement them depends on Airbus's schedule for its A350 programme, he added.
In the narrowbody segment it would be possible to launch a new "small airplane" in the middle of the decade to succeed the 737, which would be ready to enter service in 2019. It would offer a 20% improvement in fuel consumption over current generation aircraft, according to Albaugh. However, he questioned whether such an aircraft would be "good enough with rising fuel costs and emerging environmental regulations" and whether it could stay in service for 50 years.
Regardless of which product line the company considers the highest priority, Albaugh said that "now is the time for a new programme". The long period without a new aircraft launch between the arrival of the 777, which entered service in 1995, and the 787, had hampered Boeing's design abilities, he said. It led to a loss of engineering capability regarding research and development, detailed design, and translating the proposals into production, he said. This was partly the reason for the problems with the 787, he added.
Boeing will not pursue two major programmes simultaneously again as it attempted with the 787 and 747-8, new aircraft developments would need to be staggered, he said.