Boeing Sees Opportunities for 767, but Not for the Middle of the Market

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When the chief financial officer of Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) met with analysts last week, he was asked if there could be more orders for the 767, following on an order for 50 of the freighter version of the plane and options on 50 more from FedEx. Boeing’s order book currently shows 48 outstanding orders for the 767, 47 from FedEx and one from an unidentified customer.

According to Leeham News, CFO Greg Smith answered the question this way:

There are opportunities. I think we will continue to see a healthy product line. At the same time we are still looking for opportunities to make the airplane more efficient in the operating cost perspective.

A 767-300 freighter carries a list price of $199.3 million, and the passenger version, the 767-300ER, costs $197.1 million. The maximum range on the passenger version is 5,990 nautical miles and the maximum for the freighter is 3,255 nautical miles.

So what are those opportunities Boeing sees? More freighters? More passenger jets? And what will Boeing do to lower operating costs? And perhaps the most important opportunity of all, could an enhanced version of the 767 fill the need for what is called a middle of the market (MoM) aircraft to fly what the industry calls long, thin routes carrying around 200 passengers distances of around 4,000 to 5,000 nautical miles? Boeing’s 757, which the company stopped producing in 2005, defined the MoM segment.

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When Leeham News pressed for answers to these questions, Boeing replied that it is engaged in “ongoing campaigns” with unidentified potential customers, but it did not say whether those customers were interested in freighters or passenger planes.

The company included in its response that it had earlier this year introduced a performance improvement package (called a PIP in the industry) that gives the plane a 0.5% fuel efficiency boost.

What Boeing said about the possibility of the 767 being updated as the middle-of-the-market plane was pretty clear:

No, this is not something we are exploring. We continue to study the Middle of the Market segment to identify product alternatives that are right for our customers and right for Boeing.

Airbus jumped ahead of Boeing when it launched the long-range version of the A321, called the A321LR, earlier this year with an order for 30 of the planes from Air Lease Corp. Boeing had hoped that its 737 MAX 9 would make it competitive in this segment, but that idea has not gotten far with customers.

Boeing has been lukewarm to the whole middle-of-the-market idea, and it is just as likely that the company will say there is no market as that it will announce a competitor to the A321LR. Stay tuned.

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