A senior Boeing executive is resisting a recent wave of pressure to speed up a launch decision and service entry for the proposed 777X, which the airframer believes will "obsolete" the Airbus A350-1000 due for first delivery in 2017.
Several airlines, including Emirates and Qatar Airways, have expressed interest in the 777X, which will stretch the fuselages of the existing 777-200ER and 300ER. The new aircraft will also have new engines and composite wings, changes that will involve a lot more work to the aircraft compared to the 787-10X that Boeing is also studying, says its vice-president of business development and strategic integration Nicole Piasecki in an interview with Flightglobal.
Both Emirates and Qatar Airways have been vocal about their desire for a 777X successor sooner rather than later, but Piasecki says Boeing's customers are comfortable with an end-decade service entry date.
Pointing out that there will always be a trade-off between delivering a product sooner or holding off to include newer technology, she says: "Our customers are really comfortable with our decision to put the most advanced engine technology onto this 777, and that means, by definition, that's really end of [the] decade. Are we comfortable with that? Yes. Because it's going to be so much better. It's going to obsolete the A350-1000 before the A350-1000 is even delivered."
Emirates president Tim Clark has publicly called on Boeing to "get the job done" on the 777X, and is keen on the proposed new aircraft as a replacement for the airline's older 777-300ERs, which will exit Emirates' fleet around 2017.
Both Emirates and Qatar Airways have ordered the A350-1000, which went through an extensive redesign unveiled at the Paris air show in 2011. Cathay Pacific Airways gave the programme a boost earlier this year at the Farnborough air show when it became the first customer to order the aircraft following the changes to increase its range. Four other airlines - Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Asiana Airlines - had ordered the A350-1000 before the redesign.
Both Emirates and Qatar Airways have expressed reservations about the changes made to the A350-1000, and said they would be keen on the 777X as well.
While former Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Jim Albaugh had said the airframer was targeting a 777X board launch decision by end-2012, his successor Ray Conner has moved away from upholding this timeline.
In a August letter, Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia refers to what he calls Boeing's "backpedalling", saying: "Boeing maintains that the 777-300ER is as good, if not better, than the A350-1000, and therefore, it can delay the 777X. The 777-300ER may be a superb plane, but the market still prefers newer models."
Pointing out that Cathay, a major 777 operator, had defected to the A350-1000, Aboulafia adds: "That was a predictable event, and more defections are likely."
Piasecki declines to be more specific with the 777X timing, but believes Boeing will be "more mature" in the production system than its rival will be with the A350-1000. "They have a lot more risk, we are building off a very proven platform," she says.
And although Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney has said the airframer could seek internal launch approval for the 787-10X by end-2012 or early-2013, Piasecki reiterates: "We are not being specific on timing, we do have some more work to do."
Emphasising that Boeing is concentrating on getting the 787 programme's production rate up, she adds that the airframer is not ready to announce anything that will put any risk on the 787-8 and -9 programme. However, she states that the 787-10X will be 25% more fuel efficient than the A330-330s being produced today. "I can't imagine anyone that would want to finance or own an A330-300 in the wake of this airplane," she says.
Boeing is targetting a production rate of five 787s a month by end-2012, and 10 a month by end-2013 across its entire production system. It recently activated a surge line in its Everett facilities to help meet this rate, along with an existing final assembly line in Everett and a second in Charleston, South Carolina.