Boeing may decide soon on 737 successor

Boeing may decide soon on 737 successor
A Boeing 737 airplane is shown lined up at the company's assembly facility in Renton, Wash., Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Boeing exec: Decision soon on 737 successor

SEATTLE (AP) — Boeing Co. is approaching decisions on the future of two of its most-popular jetliners, the narrow-body 737 and double-aisle 777, the head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes said Wednesday.

"We will make within the next several months a decision on what we're going to do on the 737 and what we might do on the 777 airplanes," President and CEO James Albaugh told an American Bar Association forum on aerospace.

The original design of the 737 dates from the 1960s, though the model has gone through numerous improvements over the years. Chicago-based Boeing is considering whether to make incremental upgrades, put new engines on the plane or develop an all-new aircraft.

Seattlepi.com reports that John Hamilton, 737 chief project engineer, said this week that Boeing has built a 737 with minor upgrades that should improve fuel economy by 2 percent. Hamilton says airline customers favor such smaller improvements rather than a significant change like new engines that could add to operating costs.

Albaugh didn't elaborate on which way Boeing is leaning, other to say that by the end of the next decade the company's lineup could include a "potentially new 737" and a "potentially modified 777."

The 777 first flew in the mid-1990s. Boeing has had 1,157 orders for the plane, with 265 still to be delivered. It's had 8,760 orders for 737s, with a backlog of 2,127. It plans to increase 737 production to 38 planes a month by mid-2013.

Albaugh said that while demand for commercial planes is recovering, there also will be much more competition, especially for the 150-seat and smaller market that many 737 models serve. He said Boeing not only has to contend with archrival Airbus, but with new competitors in Brazil, Canada, Russia and China.

Boeing is still on track to deliver its long-delayed 787 to its first customer in early 2011, Albaugh said, adding that customers should be impressed despite having to wait more than two years.

"I'm hopeful they'll forgive us for being late," he said. "I know they would never forgive us if we got the airplane wrong."

Much of the 787 is built by subcontractors from around the globe, and the program has been plagued by production glitches and quality problems. As a result, Albaugh and other Boeing officials have said they may bring some of the work in-house.

"I spend a lot of time making sure that our engineers understand that whenever we've gotten in trouble on programs it hasn't been because of them," he said. "It's because sometimes business considerations get in the way of a real good engineering discipline."