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Boeing: Likely no decision soon on 767

Associated Press

SEATTLE — The head of Boeing Co.’s commercial airplanes division says there has been enough airline interest in Boeing’s 767 jetliner that the company probably will not have to decide this year whether it will quit producing the plane.

“Right now, we don’t anticipate having to make that decision this year,” Alan Mulally told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in an interview at the Paris Air Show.

The Chicago-based aerospace company, which builds most of its commercial planes in the Seattle area, had been expected to announce the fate of the 767 by mid- to late summer.

Boeing had a $23 billion deal with the Air Force to build 100 aerial refueling tankers based on the 767 airframe, but Congress killed it last year after revelations that Boeing had hired a top Air Force acquisitions official who later admitted giving the company preferential treatment.

The Air Force has said it likely will reopen the deal to competition, although no formal timeline has been set.

Boeing’s fuel-efficient, long-range 787, which is scheduled to enter service in 2008, was designed to replace the 767, which entered service in 1982.

In a separate interview with The Seattle Times, Mulally said he doesn’t think much of the superjumbo A380 that European jet maker Airbus has trotted out at the air show.

“It’s stubby,” Alan Mulally said. “It looks like it should be stretched to have smoother aerodynamic lines. The wing is really big. It’s a big airplane for a small market.”

Mulally also talked up Boeing’s momentum in commercial jet sales this year, acknowledging that lower pricing has helped Boeing gain some ground on its Toulouse, France-based competitor.

A top contender to become CEO of Chicago-based Boeing, Mulally acknowledged that Boeing’s sales team hadn’t paid enough attention to some key customers in recent years.

He said that the need to fix production problems and then reschedule 600 aircraft deliveries after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks required a lot of Boeing’s attention over the past four years. “Could we have spent more time during that period on certain key customers? Absolutely,” he told The Times.

Asked if he would stay at Boeing if the company didn’t make him CEO, Mulally said: “I don’t look at it that way. If Boeing offered me another opportunity, I would consider it.”

James Bell, Boeing’s chief financial officer, was promoted to acting CEO in early March after Harry Stonecipher resigned, admitting he’d had an affair with a female company executive.

Mulally noted that the pending sale of its Wichita, Kan., commercial aircraft plant to Canadian investment firm Onex has been difficult on employees there.

Mulally said the company has no plans to sell any more of its facilities.

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