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Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 2:23 p.m.

Boeing addresses investors while Puget Sound sleeps

New versions of the Boeing Co.'s popular 787 and 777 aircraft should give the jet maker the edge over European rival Airbus for years to come, Boeing officials said Wednesday.
With the mostly composite Dreamliner, "we have retained the lead in innovation" over Airbus, Jim McNerney, Boeing chief executive, said at the company's annual investor conference. The company plans to use technology developed for the 787-8 on the 787-10 and 777X, he said. The company plans to launch both the larger Dreamliner and the updated 777 this year.
McNerney's remarks, with those of other Boeing executives, were webcast from the investor conference on Kiawah Island, not far from Boeing's North Charleston, S.C., location. The webcast began at 4:30 a.m. Pacific time, when many of the company's Puget Sound-area workers were sleeping.
Boeing is trying to put behind it an embarrassing chapter involving battery failures on the 787. On Monday, McNerney flew on United's first 787 passenger flight since the jet was grounded by federal officials in January.
Although the 787's battery system posed a "significant challenge" to Boeing, the Dreamliner program now is "moving in the right direction," Ray Conner, president of Renton-based Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said at the investor conference.
Boeing has completed 90 percent of the battery-system retrofits on the fleet of 50 787s that had been delivered to customers at the time of the grounding, he said. The remainder should be finished next week.
Conner and McNerney were confident the company will deliver 60 787s as planned in 2013 despite the battery disruption. Boeing recently rolled out the first 787 assembled at a rate of seven jets per month, which includes assembly in Everett and North Charleston. The company plans to reach a pace of 10 787s monthly by year's end. Both McNerney and Conner acknowledged they're considering an even faster production rate but said they haven't made a decision yet.
The 787's battery woes mean Boeing is not as far along on the 787-10 as it would like, Conner said. That larger Dreamliner hits a "sweet spot" in the commercial aircraft market, he said.
Boeing also plans to move ahead with an updated 777. The 777X would provide a 20 percent fuel savings over Boeing's 777-300 Extended Range airplane, Conner said.
The company is likely to introduce first the 777-9X, which seats 400 passengers, followed by the 350-passenger 777-8X, Conner said.
"We feel pretty strongly that we've got a terrific lineup," he said.
Airbus doesn't have an airplane that will compete with the 777X, McNerney said.
Airbus' closest competitor to the new 777-8X would be the A350-1000. Both seat about 350 passengers. Airbus does not have a 400-passenger plane to compete with the 777-9X. The Toulouse, France-based company's biggest airplane is the 525-seat A380.
"We're way ahead of them and it's going to be fun," McNerney said.
Today Boeing builds the 777 exclusively in Everett. As for which assembly site -- Everett or North Charleston -- will get the bulk of the new aircraft's work, McNerney was coy.
Boeing invested in the North Charleston 787 final assembly line, the first new commercial jet factory established in the country since Everett's, to "have a choice," he said.
"Now that we have internal competition ... we're going to get much better deals," he said.
Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » 777787AirbusAerospace

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