Boeing 777X Draws British Airways Interest as 747s Near Renewal

Feb 07, 2014 4:15 am ET

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co., the world’s largest planemaker, may win an order for its new 777X wide-body jet from British Airways as the carrier looks to replace its 747 jumbos.

“We’re looking at the aircraft and we’re certainly interested,” Willie Walsh, chief executive officer of British Airways parent IAG SA, said yesterday in an interview in Dublin. Europe’s third-biggest airline has held discussions with Chicago-based Boeing about the jet, he said.

International Consolidated Airlines Group, as IAG is known in full, is in the midst of a fleet upgrade that saw British Airways introduce the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus Group NV A380 super jumbo last year. To replace some 747s, the airline topped up its Dreamliner orders in 2013 and bought Airbus’s largest twin-engine long-range jet, the A350-1000.

“We see aircraft like the A350-1000 and 777X as being natural replacement aircraft for the 747s that we have,” Walsh said. “We’ve not made any commitment.”

An order for more planes would be for jets for delivery from 2019, Walsh said, with Airbus still in the running. British Airways would need to replace about 25 747s, which has four engines that consume more fuel, he said.

The 777X “is a competitive aircraft,” said Walsh, who was among the airline CEOs most vocal in recent years in urging Boeing to commit to the aircraft as soon as possible to ensure a commercial debut by decade’s end.

777X Buyers

Boasting new engines and other upgrades, the jet is being purchased by BA’s alliance partners Qatar Airways Ltd. and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. as well as by Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Europe’s second-largest airline, and Middle East carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways PJCS.

Last year’s Dreamliner order includes at least 12 of the largest 787-10s, which has been on sale from Boeing since June. The rest will be 787-9s, the mid-sized variant. Deliveries will start in 2017, with the A350-1000s following a year later, and all 36 long-haul jets will be in the BA fleet by 2021. IAG also has options for more aircraft of both types.

Walsh also said in the interview that he had seen no evidence of any fallout from the rout in some emerging-market currencies.

JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s measure of emerging-market currencies tumbled 3.1 percent this year, after reaching the lowest since 2009, as the U.S. Federal Reserve’s reduction in monetary stimulus, China’s economic slowdown and political turmoil from Ukraine to Thailand eroded investors’ confidence in developing countries.

--With assistance from Ye Xie in New York and Molly Schuetz in New York. Editors: Benedikt Kammel, Ed Dufner