SEATTLE, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Boeing Co.
So far no model has emerged from the pack, but the aerospace giant is mulling some futuristic concepts along with more conventional upgrades over its 757 and 767 models, said Alan Mulally, head of Boeing's commercial airplane division.
"It's one area where there might be an opportunity for a new airplane," Mulally told investors at a conference hosted by investment bank Bear Stearns in New York. "The real criterion is going to be: does it deliver better value."
Boeing has looked at shrinking the wings on its twin-aisle 767, now used heavily on transatlantic routes, to serve shorter, regional routes, Mulally said.
Another option would be stretching the wings, which would add fuel capacity and therefore increase the range or even the speed of the 250-seat 767.
"We are looking at blended wing bodies. You could fly around in a wing," Mulally added. "Maybe that could bring a little bit lower fuel burn."
Yet so far none of these options, which fall under Boeing's long-range research and development program, have shown enough potential efficiency gains to supplant either the 767 or its 200-seat single-aisle sibling, the 757, Mulally said.
"There is nothing like this imminent," he said. "But it's a question we ought to revisit every year."
Seattle-based Boeing is looking more seriously at an expanded version of the its 416-seat 747 widebody, the proposed 747X, which would boost seating to 522 and add flying range to the world's biggest commercial jet.
PROJECT FORCED TO FOREFRONT BY AIRBUS
That project has been forced to the forefront by rival Airbus Industrie's 1/8ARBU.UL 3/8 launch of the all-new A380, which would seat 555 passengers and is slated for delivery in about six years.
But Boeing has projected a much smaller market for so-called "superjumbo" jets than Airbus, and has opted for the $4 billion 747X project--far less costly than the all-new A380, which will cost at least $10.7 billion to develop.
"Nobody wants a lot of big airplanes before 2006-2007. It only takes us three years to do a new '47 ... so we're not in a panic or a rush to do it," Mulally said.
Mulally also confirmed recent reports that Boeing is seriously considering shifting production from its Renton, Washington, narrowbody jet assembly plant to its massive widebody plant 30 miles (50 km) to the north in Everett, Washington.
"We haven't decided exactly yet. But it's definitely one possibility as we get leaner and leaner and so we are going to explore it. But it would be something that would happen over a three- four- five-year period," Mulally said.
Boeing has slashed production costs and trimmed airplane output since a record 620 deliveries in 1999, making consolidation possible, Mulally said, adding that other efficiency gains could happen overseas.
One prominent rumor involves transferring 747X wing production to one of three Japanese manufacturers -- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. <7011.T>, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. <7012.T> or Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. <7270.T>.
"We're doing it throughout the whole global enterprise. We're working with the three heavies in Japan, Korea, Alenia (in) Italy." Mulally said. "Everybody is helping. Everybody wants to be part of this, wherever the lean value chain is going to end up."
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