Stretched 787 may trump new 777

BEIJING — Boeing Co., weighing choices for its next wide-body jet upgrade, said developing a stretched version of the 787 Dreamliner may require less work than devising a revamped 777.

Executives need to finish an engineering review before deciding when to present each of the two initiatives to the board, and Boeing won’t announce a new model at next month’s Farnborough air show, Commercial Airplanes President Jim Albaugh said at a briefing here Monday.

“Right now, I’d say the maturity of the 787-10 is ahead of the 777X,” Albaugh said.

Boeing is setting twin-aisle aircraft priorities from a position of strength against Airbus SAS. The U.S. planemaker had a backlog of 1,367 wide-bodies at the end of the first quarter, to 1,067 for its European competitor, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Twin-aisle jets can sell for more than three times as much as narrow-bodies, generating higher margins.

Albaugh said it’s possible that Chicago-based Boeing may hold off on the 777X, which will probably need new wings and engines, to assess the capabilities of a possible revamp of the Airbus A350-1000.

Airbus has said it has no plans to revise that jet, which hasn’t won any sales since 2008 and has lost 13 orders in recent months because of cancellations by Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways PJSC. Airbus has already postponed deliveries of the largest A350 variant until 2017 because of design changes.

Customers such as British Airways are urging Boeing to have a new 777 ready by decade’s end. With the delays on the A350, Airbus doesn’t have a twin-engine model to match the range of about 6,900 miles (11,100 kilometers) on the 777. The first 777 entered service in 1995, and has been upgraded since then.

A 787-10 would be the third variant of the Dreamliner, following the -8 and -9 versions. It’s the world’s first jetliner built from composite materials and made its commercial- service debut in 2011 after running more than three years late.

At a May 15 investor meeting, Albaugh said Boeing plans to “stretch” the fuselage of the 787-10 by adding a plug, which would allow the new Dreamliner to carry 43 more people than the 787-9. The 787-10 would use the same engines as its predecessor, reducing its range to about 7,000 miles from more than 8,000, Albaugh said last month.

The 787-9 can seat 250 to 290 people, depending on the cabin configuration, according to Boeing’s website. The company projects it will enter service in 2014’s first quarter.

In the single-aisle market, Boeing expects to have 1,000 firm orders for its new 737 MAX by year-end as it confirms commitments, Albaugh said Monday at the briefing, which was held alongside the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association. The planemaker has won 451 firm orders since introducing the model last year.

Albaugh declined to comment on how many orders Boeing may announce next month. He also wouldn’t comment on whether an agreement on a sale to United Continental Holdings would be reached before the event. The world’s largest airline is negotiating solely with Boeing for an order for about 200 narrow-body jets after dropping discussions with Airbus, two people familiar with the matter said in April.

Boeing will defend its 50 percent market share in the single-aisle market, Albaugh said. Airbus won record orders last year helped by the introduction of its new single-aisle A320neo, which was announced about seven months before the 737 MAX. The Toulouse, France-based company is the world’s largest maker of commercial planes.

The MAX is due to enter service in 2017, featuring upgraded engines to boost fuel economy. The aircraft commands a higher price than the A320neo, Albaugh said. He declined to elaborate, citing the complexities of aircraft deals.

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