Boeing CEO James McNerney has targeted 2010 for a decision on re-engining the 737, the first clear timeline the company has provided on the future of its narrowbody family of aircraft.
"That will be a call we make this year, it will be a mid-decade intro, if we do it," says McNerney, speaking at the Cowen and Company Aerospace/Defence Conference.
"What it finally gets down to is how big is the productivity and performance leap that's available throughout re-engining for our customers. If you try to force a re-engining and it doesn't provide enough productivity or performance for your customers all it does is suck orders out of your current airplane, and yet if it does provide a big enough leap, it will be worth it," he adds.
"We're studying it very seriously," McNerney emphasises.
McNerney also appeared to further reinforce the fact that Boeing is seriously expanding its offering on the 737 from its sole-source CFM International CFM56-7B engine to an option from Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce that could take the form of an offering by International Aero Engines.
"The engine guys, they are pushing very hard," says McNerney. "They are very convinced - virtually all three of the major ones are convinced - that they have the technology that will give us enough, but I think we've got to vet that and I think we've got to spend a lot of time talking to customers this year, but this will be the year we make that call."
Boeing recently announced that it had planned to make additional research and development resources available for the future of 737 and 777 product development, while appointing two teams to study advanced product development for both airframes.
Speaking recently at the Singapore air show, Airbus chief operating officer customers John Leahy said that he hoped a decision on re-engining the A320 would be "sorted out" prior to the Farnborough air show in July.
"Obviously What our competitor does will bear on our decision and Airbus sounds very aggressive on re-engining. I think we're both taking it very seriously," says McNerney.
McNerney says that the short term options for the 737 include re-engining the airframe or waiting to do a clean sheet design, and adds that his company remains keenly aware of the coming competition in the narrowbody market, especially from the 100 to 149-seat Bombardier CSeries.
"If we can offer between 12-15% productivity, I think you can't sit on a lead as you've got the Canadians and the Chinese, and the way we're going to win is though innovation. If you milk a product too long, you invite competition. I think building on a lead and sustaining innovation, is the best long term answer to keep us competitive. You'd rather obsolete yourself a little bit than have someone else do it."