By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
It’s a game of wait-and-see.
As 2010 comes to a close, that’s where things stand with the Boeing Co.’s 777.
For the past couple years, the industry has eyed an emerging competitor for the 777-300 Extended Range jet in Airbus’ A350 Extra Widebody, or XWB, aircraft.
The A350 XWB will be built using lightweight composite panels, a spinoff of the composite barrels used on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner jets. At first glance, some said the A350-1000 could be a 777 killer if it lives up to its fuel-efficiency potential.
In January, Boeing’s Jim Albaugh said the company in 2010 needed to “develop a clear vision and road map for both the single-aisle and twin-aisle marketplaces.” He called back engineer Lars Anderson to help assess the fate of the 777.
But Boeing hasn’t announced a new strategy on the 777, nor has it set a timetable for doing so, said Nicole Piasecki, Boeing vice president for business development, in an interview this month. The company is waiting to see Airbus’ plans.
Piasecki noted the popularity of the 777, with roughly 260 unfilled orders.
“Customers can’t get enough (777s), fast enough,” she said.
Boeing has announced plans to increase production on the 777 to seven airplanes monthly in mid-2011 to accommodate customer demand.
Boeing is “going to be able to wait through most of 2011 to see what happens,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group.
As with its 737, Boeing has a few options with the 777: Upgrade the existing jet or create an all-new replacement. Echoing many observers in the industry, analyst Scott Hamilton, with Leeham Co., said Boeing can remain competitive with an upgrade.
As the company did with the 747-8, Boeing can adapt some of the technology it developed for the 787 for an updated 777.
The first model of Airbus’ A350 XWB family is expected to be delivered in 2013. The A350-1000, the potential threat to the 777, is scheduled for delivery in 2015.
Already doubt has emerged on whether Airbus will hit its delivery targets. The uncertainty is coming not only from analysts like Aboulafia but also from Airbus’ parent company, EADS.
Airbus “has already used up a large part of its built-in time buffer,” EADS’ chief executive, Louis Gallois recently told Speigel, a European publication.
As Boeing waits to see what exactly Airbus’ A350 XWB will be, the jetmaker remains positive on the 777’s future.
“Our long-term outlook for the 777 is good,” Piasecki said.