Will Boeing’s 777 Ever Get Off the Ground?

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Boeing 787 Dreamliner AirplaneComments made by Boeing (NYSE:BA) Chief Executive Jim McNerney during a conference call on October 24 have analysts and the commercial airline industry concerned.

“We are looking at the end of the decade, beginning of the next decade,” he said regarding the approximate date for the company’s 777X mini-jumbo to enter into service.

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According to a report published by Reuters on November 6, Boeing’s most profitable jet may be delayed by a year or more, later than many airline customers would like. The 777 was initially expected to be on sale by the end of this year, allowing airlines to incorporate the jets into their fleets by the end of the decade. However, with only seven weeks left until 2013, this arrival date seems unlikely. The plane’s postponement could cause airlines to purchase Airbus’ A350-1000, which is due in 2017, instead.

“While we haven’t set a firm timeline or launched the program, we’ve consistently talked about a potential market entry around the end of the decade and we are engaging with our customers to define the airplane and its ultimate timing,” Karen Crabtree, head of product strategy communications for Boeing, told Reuters.

The timing of a jet’s release is a carefully considered matter. If the plane is launched too early, rivals are given the opportunity to develop a more technologically sound aircraft, but if it is launched too late, rival manufacturers could steal the market. Currently, the market for long-haul jets is worth hundreds of billions of dollars for Boeing and Airbus over the next decade.

Commercial airlines like Emirates, British Airways (BAIRY.PK), Cathay Pacific Airways (CPCAY.PK), and United Airlines (NYSE:LCC), companies that are important buyers of the 777, have pressured Boeing to put the jet on the market sooner. These companies are fearful that the jet may be as delayed as the Dreamliner, which was three and a half years behind schedule. The 777 is eagerly anticipated because the plane can travel further on less fuel with more passengers than any other jet.

However, airlines have grown impatient. Instead of waiting for the 777, United has asked Airbus to upgrade several of its 25 orders for the A350-900 to the A350-1000. Industry sources told Reuters that Cathay Pacific placed orders for that jet in July, and analysts say others may follow.

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