They were picking flowers for the Boeing 767’s funeral as recently as a year ago. The quarter-century-old design was running out of orders, and no one except the U.S. government seemed interested in buying a bunch of new ones.
And with the Air Force’s plan to buy the 767 as an aerial tanker crashing amid Boeing’s procurement misdeeds,the prospects were bleak. (The company had essentially brided the procurement official with the promise of a lucrative job after retirement.)
Boeing seriously wondered how it could keep the production line turning while it paid its political penance for cheating.
Flash to today. The 767 in the first two months of 2007 is the most popular plane on Boeing’s annual order books with 36 ordered since Jan. 1. With those orders, Boeing’s venerable twin has surpassed the 1,000 mark in orders.
Those orders were built in part on Boeing’s yet undisclosed plans to update the 767 to compete more effectively with it’s decade-newer rival, the Airbus A330.
Industry sources suggest this is what Boeing has up its sleeve:
* A new electronic cockpit modeled after the one in the 777.
* Extended wings and raked wingtips from the 767-400.
* New, more fuel efficient engines.
* Heavier duty landing gear and flaps for more weight-carrying capacity and shorter takeoffs and landings.
The result: A plane that carries more freight farther using less fuel.
These modification also improve the prospects of Boeing winning the new Air Force contract for 179 airborne tanker, which competes with the Northrup-Grumman/Airbus KC30, the tanker version of the A330.
While its unlikely there’ll ever be a passenger version of that updated plane — the 787 Dreamliner is replacing it in the passenger catalog — the 767 production line at Everett could continue for another 10 or even 20 years if Boeing wins the initial tanker contract and the follow-ons. And prospects seem good that more orders for the freighter version of the updated plane from freight carriers.
Cancel the rosary. Send the hearse back to the garage.