| LYNNWOOD, Wash./PARIS
LYNNWOOD, Wash./PARIS Feb 13 Boeing Co
said Wednesday it plans to bring its next-generation 777X jet
into service by the end of the decade, a time frame that had
come under question after remarks from the company's chief
executive last year.
At the same time, sources familiar with the design confirmed
that the 777X design is expected to have folding wingtips, a
novel feature that would allow bigger wings to fit into the
same-sized airport parking space as the current 777.
"We have not changed our schedule," said Randy Tinseth,
vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes,
said at a conference in Seattle organized by the Pacific
Northwest Aerospace Alliance. "We're focused on these airplanes
coming to the market late in the decade."
However, Tinseth declined to confirm that the 777X design
included folding wings.
The 777x is a mini-jumbo jet modeled after Boeing's 777, the
industry's most popular wide-body aircraft that can seat more
than 300 passengers.
Twin-engine, long-haul aircraft seating around 350 to 400
passengers is seen as the industry's next big battle with both
Boeing and rival Airbus competing for a potential market of
several thousand aircraft.
Last November, it appeared that Boeing might be a year or
more away from formally offering the new 777 widebody jet.
That view arose after Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney
said on a conference call with analysts in October that "we are
looking at the end of the decade, beginning of the next decade"
for entry into service.
Wednesday's presentation by Tinseth was "a lot more
confident," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at the
Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. "This looked like a stronger
marketing message," he added and implies the plane could be
offered to customers this year.
Customers, including the 777's biggest buyer, Emirates
Airline, have pushed for the 777X as early as
possible. But Boeing has been slow to formally launch the
program with what is known as "authority to offer."
To be sure, the timing could be affected by the 787. Tinseth
said Boeing's main focus is on getting its 787 Dreamliner flying
again after the plane was grounded worldwide because batteries
burned on two of the jets last month.
But if the 777X is offered this year, a firm industrial
launch could follow eight to 12 months after Boeing starts
taking orders, Aboulafia said, and "entry into service by the
end of the decade would be quite feasible."
It was not immediately clear how airlines, which tend to shy
away from complexity, would respond to the proposed folding
wingtips if retained in the final design. But Boeing is expected
to woo them with increased range and capacity made possible by
design changes including the brand-new and longer
carbon-composite wings. The average passenger load of the most
popular version could increase to slightly over 400 seats from
365 seats, according to industry sources briefed on the plans.
Airbus is marketing a mini-jumbo, 350-seat version of its
mainly composite A350 to try to dent the success of the 777, and
is likely to argue that 777 features such as fold-back wingtips
could add maintenance risk.