Decisions on 777 loom for Boeing

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

The Boeing Co. has several big decisions to make shortly on its Everett-built 777 jet.

Last year, Boeing announced that it would slow production rates for the twin-aisle aircraft beginning in June 2010. That’s a decision Boeing will reconsider come mid-year, Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney said Thursday while speaking at the Cowen &Co. Aerospace conference. McNerney’s speech was Web cast.

“We have a rebound in our plan over the next couple of years” on the 777, McNerney said.

New aircraft orders took a dive in 2009 as carriers coped with declines in air traffic. But Boeing’s McNerney believes airlines will recover in 2011.

With that in mind, Boeing needs about an 18-month leeway to pull in or push out production rates on the 777, he said. If the company anticipates demand for the 777 increasing by early 2012, Boeing will need to make a decision to increase rates by mid-2010.

Another question on the 777 is on the horizon for Boeing: Will it offer an updated 777 or an all-new airplane?

“We have a little time on the 777,” McNerney said.

Boeing will wait to see what competitor Airbus does with its A350XWB-1000 mostly composite aircraft first. As McNerney pointed out, Airbus will deal with the A350XWB-800 and -900 versions before the -1000, which competes most directly with the 777.

As things stand now, McNerney thinks the company is more likely to upgrade its existing 777 by offering a composite wing or a new engine.

“I wouldn’t bet on new airplane,” he said.

Other items of interest from McNerney’s speech:

  • 747-8 passenger jet orders: “I think you’re going to see a little thaw in that market near the end of the year.”

    737 production rates: “We feel very good about the current production rate.”

    737 re-engine decision: “We’re studying it very hard … we’ll make the decision this year.”