Boeing’s chief executive has assured investors that the company’s massive effort to return the 737 Max to service has not affected – at least not significantly – 777X development or potential development of the “new mid-market airplane” (NMA).
Speaking to investors on 24 April, CEO Dennis Muilenburg walked a fine line, repeatedly stressing that Boeing’s prime focus remains to address issues with the Max, an effort he says has involved employees from across the company.
But that work has not cut into development of Boeing’s next generation of aircraft, he says.
“I want to stress and reiterate the point that we are very, very focused on the safe return to service of the Max, and that remains our top priority,” Muilenburg tells investors.
“As far as the ripple impact or potential impact to the 777X – we haven't seen any direct impact,” he adds. “Our team has been very strong about continuing to drive 777X development and performance in parallel with our… return-to-service efforts on the Max.”
Prior to the most recent 737 Max crash, Boeing’s public relations efforts centered largely on promoting the 777X, which the company had planned to unveil to media during a ceremony in Everett on 13 March.
Boeing cancelled that event immediately after the 10 March crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, which spurred the narrowbody’s global grounding.
Since then, Boeing’s communications have focused almost entirely on the 737 Max as the company scrambled to develop and certify a fix to the aircraft’s flight control software. That work continues.
Despite that effort, Muilenburg says Boeing remains committed to meeting its 777X goals. It expects first flight this year and plans to deliver the first 777X in 2020.
“We've deployed our teams accordingly [to] make sure that we've resourced high-priority efforts on [the] 777X,” he says.
The company has now rolled two flight test 777X out of its Everett factory, and two other aircraft are in final assembly, Muilenburg says.
Questions also arose during the recent earnings call about whether 737 Max issues have affected Boeing’s evaluation of, or commitment to, the concept aircraft known as the NMA.
Boeing has said that narrowbody aircraft, if developed, would have 200-270 seats and 4,000-5,000nm (7,400-9,300km) range. It has pitched the NMA as a 757 replacement and a clean-sheet competitor to the Airbus A321.
Boeing has said it would decide whether to offer the aircraft to customers in 2019, then decide in 2020 whether to formally launch the NMA. Boeing has pegged 2025 as the year the aircraft, if approved, would enter service.
“We’re continuing our work on that in parallel,” Muilenburg says of the NMA. “Certainty the highest priority for us is the 737 Max safe return to service… We have prioritised our resources accordingly as we continue to work on our NMA effort in parallel.”
Boeing is still eying “a 2025 entry-into-service date”, he adds. “We still have work to do before we get to an authority-to-offer a decision. We're still working on a pace to try to do that this year, as we previously announced.”
Muilenburg also referenced a committee, established by Boeing’s board in the wake of the Ethiopian and Lion Air 737 Max crashes, to review the company’s aircraft design and development process. The aim, he says, is to “ensure the highest level of safety on the 737 Max programme as well as our other airplane programmes”.
“We do not see any changes to the underlying certification processes,” Muilenburg says of Boeing’s 777X certification work. “But if we find areas to improve, we will certainly adopt those.”