Emerging threat from Airbus A350 XWB may see US manufacturer deferring stretched 787-10 and 737 replacement

Boeing chief executive James McNerney has hinted at possible changes in the company's product strategy by saying that further derivatives of the 777 may counter the emerging threat of Airbus's A350 XWB.

The move poses new questions over the long-term development of the stretched 787-10 and adds to growing speculation that Boeing may further delay a next-generation 737 replacement.

McNerney, speaking at a results conference last week, said the 777 "will have to be modified somewhere along the line. Which comes first? What we're doing is maturing the technologies and listening to customers so that we're ready to go when it becomes clear which one goes first. I think in terms of the 777 we need to see what the A350 is or isn't before we can make a judgement on whether a competitive response is needed."

The possibility of further improvements to the 777 was raised in March by International Lease Finance boss Steven Udvar-Hazy, who said: "If the XWB goes forward Boeing could move out with one more iteration of the 777 - say a 777-400ER. They could improve the economics a little bit more, but it very much depends on what will happen to the 787-10 and A350-1000."

Emirates is a major 777 customer and was instrumental in the development of the -300ER. The airline's president Tim Clark says he would prefer Boeing to focus on range rather than capacity: "We don't want an increase in size. We'd like Boeing to look at taking weight out to find some extra range."

Although a stretched "777-400ER" derivative would potentially plug the gap in the US airframer's product line-up between the 365-seat 777-300ER and 467-seat 747-8, it has been widely assumed the proposed -10 "double-stretch" of the 787 would be developed to counter the A350 XWB. However, much appears to still hinge on whether General Electric can be persuaded to offer a GEnx engine variant for the A350-1000 version that has been described as a "777 killer".

Until recently, it has also been widely accepted that Boeing's next product developments after the 787-3 and -9, and the 747-8, would most likely be a 787-10 and a next-generation narrowbody. However, McNerney's comments seem to indicate that more emphasis could be placed on 777 derivatives as a more urgent priority.

Boeing has already admitted it is being pressured to improve the specification of the proposed 310-seat 787-10, to make it more competitive with the A350 XWB. The 787-10's entry into service, originally expected in 2012 or 2013, is unlikely to be brought forward, however, given the existing 787 programme commitments.

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Source: Flight International