Boeing to begin lining up 777X customers

The Boeing Co. board of directors gave the OK for the company’s sales team to offer an updated version of the 777 to customers, a step shy of a formal airplane program launch.

“We’re clearly taking the next step,” Karen Crabtree, a Boeing spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

Leaders at Renton-based Boeing Commercial Airplanes have been mulling a refreshed version of the Everett-built 777, dubbed the 777X, for several years. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney last week confirmed the jet will have a composite wing and new, more-fuel-efficient engines. The company plans for the 777X to enter commercial service at the end of the decade.

Boeing’s decision to actually build the 777X will depend on market response during this sales phase, Crabtree said. The sales force now can discuss additional “technical, pricing and schedule” details with interested airlines, she said.

Emirates, the largest customer of 777s, has expressed interest in the 777X. Airline CEO Tim Clark recently said he was pleased with the 777X specifications he had seen but doubted the airline would be ready to announce an order at the Paris Air Show in June.

Other interested customers include British Airways and Lufthansa. International Airline Group, the parent of British Airways, placed an order in April for up to 36 A350-1000s, Airbus’ competitor to the 777X.

Boeing’s largest proposed variant of the 777X probably will have about 407 seats and a 21 percent advantage in fuel economy over the current 777-300ER, according to a note Thursday from Howard Rubel, a Jefferies &Co. analyst.

Offering the new plane is a chance to “limit the A350’s market,” Rubel wrote. Prospective buyers could use the 777X to replace older versions of Boeing’s 747 jumbo jet and build on their current 777-300ER fleets, he said.

“Our industry order estimates had factored about 200-250 launch orders from a range of carriers,” Rubel wrote.

Boeing’s board approval to begin selling the 777X likely will increase speculation about where the 777X will be built. Crabtree declined to speculate, saying that decisions on supply chain and partnerships typically are addressed after a formal launch.

Gov. Jay Inslee welcomed Boeing’s step on the 777X. Working with a coalition of business, labor and local governments, the governor vowed to unveil soon a long-term strategy for aerospace in the state.

”The paramount goal of this effort is to win the 777X for Washington,” Inslee said in a statement.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com. Bloomberg News contributed to this story.

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