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Boeing responds to revived interest in passenger-carrying 767

Boeing sees “broader customer interest” in the 767 beyond military tankers and commercial freighters, says chairman, president and chief executive Dennis Muilenburg on a 25 October earnings call.

Boeing delivered the last of 583 passenger-carrying 767-300ER models to Air Astana in mid-2014, but the company kept open the option of re-starting production if demand returns.

“The 767 aircraft is the only Boeing product that addresses the freighter, passenger and tanker markets – making the possibilities for new 767 orders optimistic for decades to come,” Boeing said in May 2014.

But prospects for new 767-300ER orders appeared to dim two months later when Airbus launched the re-engined A330neo family, including the A330-800 and A330-900. Three years later, however, the market has responded with lukewarm support for the larger A330-900 with 204 firm orders, and shown hardly any interest in the A330-800 with only six orders from a single customer – Hawaiian Airlines.

Not surprisingly, an analyst asked Muilenburg on Boeing’s third quarter earnings call if recent reports were true that the 767-300ER could see a comeback. Boeing continues to deliver 767-2Cs to the US Air Force, which are modified into KC-46 aerial tankers. A healthy backlog of 63 orders for the 767-300F also fills Boeing’s production skyline, which is being retired at a clip of 2.5 deliveries a month.

Muilenburg was clearly not ready to make any definitive statements in his response, but left the door open to future sales of Boeing’s original medium-sized, twin-engined widebody, which originally entered service in 1982.

“We continue to see broader customer interest, so we'll evaluate those opportunities. But the fact that we have a healthy production line, an airplane that provides a unique value proposition both to commercial and military customers, and we don't see the 767 line as a sunset-ing production line. It's a strong, long-term production line, and it does have some growth opportunities for us,” Muilenburg says.

The 767-300ER debuted in service in 1988 with American Airlines. It was supposed to be replaced in service by the 787-8, another medium-twin. Although both aircraft offer roughly similar capacity, they provide vastly different levels of performance. Boeing lists the 767-300ER with a range of nearly 6,000nm, but that’s about 22% short of the 787-8.

With the A330-800 flailing in the market and the 767-300ER out of production, some airlines have perceived a gap in their fleet replacement plans. Last January, United Airlines executives bemoaned the lack of a clear replacement for the carrier’s fleet of more than 40 767s, including 767-300ERs and 767-400ERs. United has ordered 787s, but have used that type to fulfill growth needs.

Of course, Boeing has proposed to fill that niche with the New Mid-sized Aircraft (NMA), a family of aircraft in the 200-270-seat range that can fly routes of about 5,000nm. That’s the sweet-spot for the 767 replacement, but it’s not available yet. Boeing still hasn’t committed to launching the NMA as a product. If the project receives a go-ahead, carriers such as United will have to wait at least seven or eight more years for entry-into-service.

In the meantime, reviving the 767-300ER after a 3.5-year hiatus of deliveries could become an acceptable alternative, says Richard Aboulafia, vice-president of analysis for the Teal Group.

“Since a lot of airlines have plenty of 767s in their fleet it’s an easy fit,” Aboulafia says. “Also, since oil remains relatively cheap new engines may hold less appeal compared to a very heavily discounted 767.”

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