Boeing has acknowledged growing airline interest in the proposed 777-100X shrink, but continues to downplay talk of a further stretch of the 777-300 as it seeks to enlist support for the planned extended-range 747-400X and follow-on 747X growth development.

The 777-100X study was recently revived in response to an emerging requirement led by Singapore Airlines for a 250-seat replacement for the 200-250 seat Airbus A300/A310 family. The aircraft also interests International Lease Finance president Steve Hazy, who is understood to envisage a large need for the derivative.

"Its a great looking aircraft. In Boeing we call it the -100. Steve likes the name -500," says Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Alan Mulally.

Hazy and "a lot of other people" like it because they "believe that fragmentation is going to continue at an accelerated pace....You then come in with a 777-100, -200 and -300 size and mix and match to the traffic," says Mulally.

Boeing is also studying a further stretch of the 777-300ER, which would add 50 or 60 more seats and is tentatively referred to as the-400X (Flight International, 27 October - 2 November).

This model, which would offer similar capacity to the 747-400 (400 seats) is believed to have attracted the attention of British Airways and Cathay Pacific Airways. Although the 360-seat 777-300ER has a comparable 13,380km (7,230nm) range to the 747, it falls short on capacity.

"You could stretch the -300ER a little bit," says Mulally, but adds there is not much interest at present and that most carriers consider the -300ER a "good size" replacement for the earlier 747 Classics. Airline sources suspect Boeing's strategy is to limit discussion of an enlarged 777-400X, while it is still lining up launch customers for the 777-200LR/300ER and before it can reposition the 747-400 to counter the Airbus A3XX. "The 777 will never get bigger than the 747," adds Mulally.

The Seattle manufacturer's near-term goal is to develop a 413,140kg (910,000lb) increased gross version 747-400X by 2002, with extended range, to be followed by a stretched 747X, possibly around 2004-05. "It's just a matter of when I think we'll stretch the 747," adds Mulally.

• Boeing has raised cargo growth expectations after Asian orders for more than 20 747-400 freighters in the past nine months and double-digit air cargo traffic growth, year-on-year, in key Asian markets, to pre-1997 levels. Boeing cargo marketing regional director, James Edgar, says with recent orders "more than half the world's entire 747-400F fleet will be domiciled in Asia". There is also new interest from potential "main-deck" carriers such as China Southern.

Boeing expects annual air cargo traffic to grow to 500 billion revenue tonne/km (RTK) over the next 20 years, from 180 billion RTK, with the freighter fleet growing from 1,550 to 3,000 aircraft and providing 42% of capacity, against 1998's 37%. Boeing says 1,800 aircraft will be converted and 600 will be new. Retained aircraft will form the balance.

Source: Flight International