Boeing is on the verge of launching the 767-400ERX after an initial order for three "enhanced" -400ERs from Kenya Airways and the prospect of a crucial win in Austria where it is battling head to head with Airbus over a potential Lauda Air order.

The Lauda Air contest is for about eight aircraft and pitches the proposed high gross weight version of the Boeing twin against the Airbus A330-200. Lauda Air operates an all-Boeing large-jet fleet that includes two 767-300ERs and two 777-200ERs. Its A330/767 requirement is thought to include aircraft for its Italian subsidiary, which has four 767-300ERs.

Kenya Airways, which ordered two Boeing 737-700s as part of the 767 deal, decided last month to replace its Airbus A310 fleet with three 221-seat 767-300ERs (Flight International, 8-14 February), beginning this year. Deliveries of the 259-seat -400ERs are expected to start in May 2004, while the first 737-700s are to be handed over in December 2002.

Boeing says that "the -400ERX is still in product development" and will only be formally launched "when market demand warrants it". It admits, however, that the aircraft ordered by Kenya Airways "is the -400ERX".

The main new feature of the -ERX is greater range and payload, achieved through increased gross weight and the activation of space in the horizontal tail for additional fuel. This boosts range by about 1,110km (600nm) to 12,025km.

General Electric, which to date has become the de facto sole-source supplier to the -400ER programme, says: "We have not talked to Boeing to define the engine requirements. That is being worked out. We are evaluating whether it should be a derivative [CF6-80C2B7F/ B8F], or a G2." The basic -B7F/B8F options on the current -400ER are rated at 62,000-63,300lb (276-282kN) thrust respectively. New derivatives, grouped around the G2 concept, have been under study to provide between 65,000lb and 68,000lb thrust for the higher gross weight -400ERX version.

The enhanced -400ER could breathe new life into the G2 study, which was quietly shelved last year amid Boeing's continuing indecision over the future of the -400ERX and the 747-400X, at which the GE study engine was also aimed.

Source: Flight International