(Updates with closing share price in sixth paragraph.)
March 8 (Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co.’s upgrade of its 777 wide-body jet, a model coveted by airlines, moved closer to board approval with the appointment of an executive to lead development of the plane.
Bob Feldmann will become vice president and general manager of the so-called 777X project, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Officer Ray Conner said today in an e-mail to employees. He will report to Scott Fancher, the executive in charge of airplane development, Conner wrote.
Naming a 777X chief adds to evidence that Boeing directors are closer to giving the go-ahead for the jet, which is central to Boeing’s strategy to keep its lead over Airbus SAS in twin- aisle airliners. Emirates Airline CEO Tim Clark, who runs the biggest 777 operator, said this week that the board probably will give a green light within weeks.
“We don’t know if we’ll see a launch this year, but there’s clearly a signal here to potential customers that Boeing is giving it higher priority,” Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at consultant Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia, said in an e-mail. Feldmann’s appointment “certainly implies that 777X is being moved to the front burner.”
The 777X will have new wings and engines as Boeing seeks to improve performance. Feldmann, 58, had overseen the development of the 737 Max, a new version of Chicago-based Boeing’s most successful aircraft, since its 2011 inception.
Boeing rose 0.2 percent to $81.23 at the close in New York. The shares have climbed 7.8 percent this year, compared with an 8.8 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.
The 777 is Boeing’s biggest twin-engine model, and has a top list price of $315 million. Boeing usually first seeks the board’s authority to offer a new model and then, once it has customers lined up, commits to producing the plane.
Emirates and British Airways Plc are among carriers that have been demanding a Boeing decision on the 777X so the new jet can enter service by decade’s end. That would allow airlines to move quickly to replace some of their older aircraft.
“Customers are happy with the airplane design and we are pleased with where we are in the process,” Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman, said by e-mail. “While we haven’t set a firm timeline or launched the program, we’ve consistently talked about” a possible commercial debut around the end of the decade.
--Editors: Ed Dufner, James Langford