Germanys No.1 aviation magazine "Flug Revue" has a very interesting article in its Dec. issue about the future of Boeings top product, the 747.
After visiting Seattle and talking to Boeing managers this is in short what the magazine is writing:
Next step after the 744LR is a refined version of the 747-400, possibly to be named 747"Quiet", modied with cleaned surfaces, new flaps, undercarriage construction, engine cowlings and so on to make it as quiet as the 777 and within the extreme noise regulations to come in near future.
Boeing claims that some airlines have expressed serious interest in that new 744 version that would also explain why demand is slow at the moment. They also say that the 747 is the only program that saw not a single order cancellation during the current crisis. The production plan of the next two years is full.
Noteworthy also that Boeings see´s the GE-engine as having the best potential of further development.
The freighter will be equipped with better loading systems.
Production standardisation will reduce costs and reduce production time of a 747 from 90 days today to 70 days soon (It were 120 days in 1970).
The Boeing officials repeat the statement that the 747 will stay up to 30 years in production from now.
Boeing keeps investiing in their most popular product. That includes a complete rebuild production line where the planes move on a assembly line.
In 2008/9 Boeing might bring out a completely new version of the 747 with new engines and wings (similar to the shelved 745/6 project).
All in all that is the most optimistic article I read about my favorite aircraft in the last years - filled with facts rather than speculations.