Boeing will likely seek board approval to sell the 777X as early as next month, The Wall Street Journal has reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
Emirates Airline, International Consolidated Airlines Group and Japan Airlines will become the launch customers for the new version of the company's best-selling twin-aisle jet.
The first of two new models will reportedly be available by 2019. The new plane is Boeing's answer to rival Airbus' A350, which has been delayed until mid-2014.
Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said the company hasn't set a firm timeline for the 777X, but has "consistently talked about" a possible launch "around the end of the decade." Boeing is "aggressively moving forward per our plan and working with our customers on the requirements" of the plane, he said. "Customers are happy with the airplane design and we are pleased with where we are in the process."
Emirates chief executive Tim Clark has said that Boeing was close to offering the updated jetliner for sale. Emirates is the largest operator of the plane and has 175 777s. It is most interested in the second model to begin replacing its fleet early next decade. The airline already holds rights to convert some existing 777 orders to the new models.
In light of the advances with the 777X program, the manufacturer has named Bob Feldmann as VP and GM of the 777X program and Keith Leverkuhn as VP and GM of the 737 MAX program. Leverkuhn was formerly VP and GM of the Propulsion Systems Division. Nicole Piasecki will succeed him in this position.
Four of the five Business Development and Strategic Integration Teams (BDSI)—Environment and Aviation Policy, Product Strategy, Services Strategy, and Strategic Planning and Analysis—will merge with Marketing, renamed to Marketing and Business Development. The fifth BDSI team, Industrial Participation, will join the Supplier Management Organization.
Meanwhile, Boeing is increasing production rates due to strong demand for its commercial airplanes and a healthy backlog.
The 737 program is currently in the process of increasing its production rate to 38 airplanes per month and will go to 42 per month in the first half of 2014. The 777 program just increased production to a record high 8.3 airplanes per month (100 per year) and the 787 program plans to increase its current 5 per month rate to 10 per month by the end of this year.
“The data tells us the market is strong and will continue to be strong. That’s why we’re confident as we raise our production rates,” said Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Supply and demand will continue to be in balance as we put more airplanes into the hands of our customers.”
Tinseth added that passenger traffic is growing faster than capacity. Utilization rates and airline load factors are at historic levels. Airlines continue to replace their older, less fuel-efficient airplanes. He also said industry data shows the economic life of airplanes continues to hold steady. "Everything tells us that airplanes are long-lived assets and continue to be good investments.”