Emirates Airline, the largest operator of the Boeing 777 aircraft, said the US manufacturer is getting closer to offering a new version that will seek to defend its lead against Airbus SAS in the wide-body market.
Boeing will probably get backing from its board in coming weeks to begin offering the model, said the Emirates president Tim Clark, without disclosing how he obtained the information. The Chicago-based planemaker has been talking with the Dubai company and other airlines about the plane's specifications and should soon be in a position to begin "formal talks," he said.
Boeing's 777 is the centrepiece of its wide-body strategy, a lucrative segment of the civil aviation market that's coming under fresh attack from Airbus and its new A350 model. Emirates has ordered a total of 139 777 planes, which seat about 365 people and cost US$315 million at list price in the most popular variant.
"There's good news, I think they're ready to go on that," Mr Clark said in Berlin today. "I'm hoping in the next two to three weeks we'll be able to start talking on a formal basis."
Emirates has urged Boeing to move ahead with a new wide- body to succeed the 777-300ER. While the model is popular, it risks getting supplanted by the A350-1000 that Airbus is developing for entry into service in 2017.
Mr Clark said he may eventually need as many as 275 new 777s, of which 175 would replace aircraft in the fleet or scheduled for delivery and the additional models for growth. Emirates expects the successor to be ready by about 2021. By that time, the airline would have 40 to 50 777s ready to leave its fleet and be replaced. Emirates flies aircraft for about 12 years.
The wing on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is "one of the best" ever produced, and Mr Clark said he expects the wing on the new 777 to be similar if larger.
Ray Conner, who runs Boeing's commercial airplane unit, said March 4 that the company had been working "really hard on the business case" and was in "relatively good shape" to offer the plane once it has made further progress on coming up with a solution that would get its 787 Dreamliner flying again.
That aircraft, which is smaller than the 777, has been grounded since the middle of January because of battery defects.
* Bloomberg News