With the show's attention focused on Boeing's as-yet undeclared plans for its 737, the airframer has revealed it is examining near- and long-term 777 improvements, including conceptual studies for aircraft it has dubbed the 777-8X and 777-9X, intended as a possible response to the updated Airbus A350-1000.

"We're taking the -1000 very seriously," said Jim Albaugh, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "We're going to put our assessment on when that plane can be available. We'll take a hard look on how long it will take them to go up in rate." Whether or not that necessitates incremental improvements or a significant derivative of the 777 "remains to be seen".

Boeing 777 production
 © Boeing

In the near-term, said Boeing vice-president of business development Nicole Piasecki, the airframer is evaluating a series of incremental updates dubbed the 777+, which include extending the wingspan of the 777, along with adding avionics enhancements, similar to that of the 747-8, providing additional capability to the flight deck for the crew without changing the display area.

The 777+ marks a return to the forefront of the extended wingspan option after it was shelved in 2010 as the company explored other options for the long-range widebody. At the time of its evaluation, the extended wing could have been available as early as the fourth quarter of 2012, said company sources.

Other possible changes include structural modifications to more comfortably accommodate 10-abreast seating, said industry sources. Further, Boeing and General Electric are exploring ways to introduce GEnx engine technology into the GE90, which is the only powerplant available on the 777-300 family.

"What we'll do on the 777 is continue to improve the airplane we have," said Albaugh. "But we also have some major upgrades we could do in the event that we have to respond to a move by the competition."

Boeing vice-president of sales Marlin Dailey said longer-term improvements to the 777, including examining the "up-gauging" or stretching of the fuselage, through the conceptual 777-9X and 777-8X, would be available early in the next decade.

Industry sources said the -9X would be an additional stretch to the 777-300ER, while the -8X would be a shrink of the 365-seat jet, The 777-8X and -9X would allow Boeing to span the products between the proposed 290- to 330-seat 787-10X and 467-seat 747-8.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news