- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

CHICAGO (AP) — Twice in the past three years, Boeing Co. has halted new airplane programs before takeoff: the supersized 747X and the fleet Sonic Cruiser.

This time, the fuel-efficient 7E7 Dreamliner appears to have a strong chance of getting off the ground.

Boeing’s board of directors is widely expected to agree today at the end of a two-day meeting in Chicago on offering the 7E7 for sale to airlines — a step that could lead to a formal start of the program in mid-2004, assuming there is sufficient demand from customers.

Boeing officials remained tight-lipped about the 7E7 approval process and said they would not even confirm when the board meeting had begun yesterday.

But industry observers have said they would be shocked if Boeing didn’t go ahead with the program, citing not only the company’s lack of a new airplane program for the past decade but the dramatic gains that rival Airbus has made in taking over the market-share lead in commercial airplanes this year. And newspaper reports have said Everett, Wash., has been recommended by an executive team as the 7E7 assembly site.

“The only doubt is what kind of launch we’re talking about here,” aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group said.

“Boeing has always done a real launch. But McDonnell Douglas [which it acquired in 1997] did a bunch of halfhearted, highly conditional launches in the ‘90s where things didn’t go anywhere.”

Boeing is led for the first time by a McDonnell Douglas veteran, Harry Stonecipher, who returned from retirement this month to take the CEO’s post after a rash of ethics scandals within the company’s defense business prompted Phil Condit’s resignation.

Mr. Stonecipher voiced his strong support for the 7E7 program on the day he took over. He is expected to try to assuage any concerns among the other 10 board members about whether Everett is the best site, given the potential for labor problems that could be greater than elsewhere.

Boeing spokesmen have said that if there is positive news from today’s board meeting, company executives would first announce the decision to employees tomorrow in Seattle.

Boeing expects to offer three versions of the 7E7.

The standard model would carry 200 passengers for more than 8,900 miles; a stretch model would have a capacity of 250 passengers and go 9,500 miles, and a short-range version would have room for 300 passengers and fly 4,000 miles.

About 800 to 1,200 jobs are expected to be created for assembly.

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