New Boeing chief provides updates on 787, 777 models

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

The Boeing Co.’s new president of commercial airplanes revealed a few new details Friday on development programs for the 777X and the 787-10X but gave no date as to when the company might offer the jets to customers.

“We are defining the airplanes with our customers,” Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said Friday during a Morgan Stanley conference that was webcast.

It was one of Conner’s few public appearances since taking over the division this summer from Jim Albaugh, who announced his retirement in June.

For the meantime, Boeing is focused on aircraft already in development, specifically the 737 MAX, the 767-based aerial-refueling tanker and the 787-9, as well as on increasing and stabilizing production, Conner said.

Boeing announced plans last year to upgrade the single-aisle 737, which is built in Renton. Since then, Boeing has won more than 1,200 orders and commitments from 18 customers. The company plans to deliver the first MAX in 2017.

Development work on the 737 MAX “is just doing fabulous,” Conner said. “It’s exceeding a lot of the expectations we had initially.”

As for work on the 787-9, which will seat about 40 more passengers than the 787-8, Conner also was upbeat.

“We’re well on our way with that product,” he said.

Conner noted that some 787-9 suppliers already had begun work on the new Dreamliner. Boeing plans to deliver the first 787-9 in 2014.

For several years, Boeing officials have pondered an even larger version of the Dreamliner, called the 787-10X. Conner called that jet a “really straightforward derivative,” although Boeing has yet to announce when the 787-10X will be available to customers. The plane would have two additional “doughnuts,” or fuselage sections, he said. The main question is whether the bigger plane would need redesigned landing gear.

Conner gave less information about a potential upgrade of the Everett-built 777. Company officials previously have said a 777X likely would have more-efficient engines and composite wings.

“The 777X … that’s a bigger work statement,” Conner said on Friday.

As for airplanes already in production, Conner confirmed Boeing’s plan to reach a production rate of five 787-8s by the end of the year. Many of the company’s suppliers already are building at that rate.

The challenge for reaching Boeing’s goal production rate of 10 787s monthly by the end of 2013 will be adding in the 787-9 into the mix next year.

“But that’s why we have the (temporary 787) surge line” in Everett, he said.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.