Boeing has formally committed to production of the 'longer range' 767-400ERX and plans to start manufacturing the seventh version of the big twin family in February 2003. At the same time, Continental Airlines has delayed plans to order the extended range 757-200ERX but is understood to be finalising a deal for the stretched -300 model.

The protracted timescale of the 11,400km (6,150nm)-range 767 model is tied to the development of the two engine candidates recently selected for the programme. Agreements with Rolls-Royce and the General Electric-Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance to provide the Trent 600 and GP7172 respectively, provide the basis for Boeing's go-ahead. Both engines will be rated up to 72,000lb thrust (320kN), and will have commonality with the proposed 747X.

So far, the only launch commitments for the 245-seater are from Kenya Airways, which recently confirmed a deal for three longer range -400ERs. The aircraft will be capable of flying an extra 950km through the use of space in the horizontal tail for fuel. It will also have structural enhancements to the wing, fuselage and landing gear.

American Airlines is showing renewed interest in the long range model, having earlier cooled its interest when the projected entry-into-service date for this requirement was pushed back into 2003 owing to growing fears of over-capacity. Revived interest in the longer-range twin has stemmed from the success of the airline's subsequent fleet upgrade plan, and reduced worries about capacity.

Manufacture is to begin in February 2003, with flight testing starting in September. Certification is expected in March 2004 and entry-into-service with Kenya Airways the next month.

Meanwhile, Continental Airlines is expected to announce orders for up to 15 757-300s to replace its DC-10s. Boeing says it has been "in discussions with Continental on the -300" but the final agreement is yet to be concluded.

The deal, if confirmed, will be a significant boost for the 250-seat twinjet programme which to date has accumulated only 29 firm orders from five customers. Plans for the longer range 757-200ERX derivative have slipped, with a decision not now expected for "a month or more", say sources.

Northwest Airlines is also studying the 757-300 as a replacement for up to 21 DC-10-40s, and is expected to choose between the Boeing and the competing A330-500 in November.

Source: Flight International