In addition to studying the long term future of the 777, Boeing is working to implement a host of incremental changes to the long-range widebody, as well as evaluating an extended wingspan.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh says that extending the wing of the 777 is among a set of incremental improvements being shown to customers.
Company sources familiar with the 777 Extended Wing (777EW) say that Boeing is hoping to offer the increased span for entry into service in the fourth quarter of 2012.
The larger wingspan is aimed at increasing the aerodynamic efficiency of the aircraft, and is designed as a tactical move to head off the 350-seat Airbus A350-1000 due for entry into service in 2015.
The size of the increase was not specified, though one source says, "take it as a given that the 777 wing can grow".
While not specifying a potential time period for a 777EW's introduction, Albaugh says it is a question that depends "on what our customers want and what they want to pay for, we'll do those things, but we're in discussions not just about what we might do as major upgrade for the 777, but incremental things we can do between now and the end of this decade".
Albaugh says that Lars Anderson, who is directing the 777 advanced product development team, is taking into account both the incremental 777 upgrades as well as more significant changes that may come over the next decade.
Among the major 777 changes being explored are a new composite wing and new engine, or even a clean sheet design for an entirely new aircraft that sits between the 787 and 747-8.
"They really do have to be looked at collectively. If you're an airline and you saw a new airplane coming, would you want a small fleet of different airplanes than you're flying today?" asks Albaugh.
In the near term, Albaugh says the company is also rolling out further incremental improvements to the existing family of 777 aircraft.
Boeing will introduce a 5,000lb increase in the maximum zero fuel weight of the 777-300ER, providing an equivalent payload increase of 20 to 25 passengers.
Starting later this year, the General Electric GE90-115B1 engines that power the 777-300ER will increase thrust by 1%-2.5% as part of an Enhanced Thrust Management (ETM) package designed to increase take off weight at higher-altitude airports, and will be available in both new production and as a retrofit.