The Boeing Co. is talking with airlines about a third, shorter-range version of the 7E7 Dreamliner, the executive in charge of the program said Monday.
The short-range version of the plane would have about half the range of the basic model — although it still would be capable of flying coast-to-coast across the United States, Boeing Commercial Airplanes senior vice president Mike Bair said.
In a telephone conference with reporters, Bair also expressed confidence Boeing’s board of directors will give its formal blessing to the new airplane within the next few months.
"All the conversations we’ve had have been very supportive," he said.
The company also is near a final decision on where it wants to build the new jet, Bair said, adding that he has seen "tremendous progress" in Washington state’s business climate.
"You look at what the state has accomplished so far, not just for us, but for business in general," he said. "They’re on the right track."
Bair said his team now envisions a family of three 7E7s: the standard model, carrying 200 passengers for more than 8,900 miles; a stretch model, carrying 250 passengers for 9,500 miles; and the short-range version, which would carry up to 300 passengers on trips of about 4,000 miles.
Short range is something of a misnomer, given that the jet still would be able to fly coast-to-coast, Bair said. "Fifteen or 20 years ago, this would have been a long-range airplane."
The short-range jet would be the same size as the basic model — 182 feet long, very similar to the 767-300 — and it would be available to airlines in 2008, just like the basic model.
But it would be as much as 100 tons lighter, largely because it would carry less fuel. It would have a different wing and winglets, but like the longer-range versions, airlines would save about 20 percent on operating costs, Bair said.
The "bulk of the demand" for a short-range version is coming from Asian airlines, specifically in Japan and China, Bair said. In the end, it made more sense to develop a short-range jet for those customers, rather than force them to buy a plane with more capacity than they needed.
"It just looked to us like the right answer," Bair said.
However, developing a short-range model will mean pushing back a decision on which engines will be offered with the 7E7, he said.
Bair said the company anticipates a market for up to 2,500 7E7s, and about 20 percent of those could be the short-range version.
Boeing designers have passed a major design milestone known as "firm concept" with the 7E7, Bair said. That means they’ve figured out the broad outline of the plane’s size and performance, and have now moved on to specifically designing parts, structures and the way the plane will fly.
He said the new jet will be about 50 percent composite materials, 20 percent aluminum, and 30 percent titanium, steel and other materials. That compares with 12 percent composites, 70 percent aluminum and 18 percent other materials in Boeing’s 777 jetliner.
With those decisions made, the company plans to invite representatives of about 40 potential customer airlines to Seattle next week to review the concepts, Bair said.
The next major milestone will come when Boeing’s board of directors formally approves offering the jet to customers, which could happen later this year or early in 2004, Bair said.
Boeing also is nearing a decision on a site for final assembly of the new jet, which will likely be announced in the next few months.
"All the sites are different," Bair said. "They have different strengths and different weaknesses."
Bair wouldn’t comment on the relative strength of Washington’s bid. The state is proposing Everett and Moses Lake as potential sites.
However, Bair said the company has noted "if nothing else, a real change in attitude in how important it is to change the business climate … a clear change in how they want to help and what they’re willing to do."
Reporter Bryan Corliss: 425-339-3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.