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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Boeing Scraps Sonic Cruiser Project

SEATTLE -- Boeing Co., the world's largest jet maker, on Friday announced it would build a fuel-efficient, mid-sized aircraft instead of the proposed, high-speed Sonic Cruiser and said jet deliveries would slump through 2004.

Suffering through an orders drought amid a travel downturn following the Sept. 11 attacks, Boeing said airlines want jets that burn less fuel and meet growing demand for flights between smaller cities instead of huge airport hubs.

The new, as yet unnamed aircraft will be launched in 2004 and enter service around 2008, generally the same time frame that Boeing had outlined for the Sonic Cruiser, which would have cost more, although it promised to fly about 20 percent faster than today's commercial fleet.

"We are talking about a tremendous market, not only growth, but replacing older mid-size planes," Boeing commercial jet boss Alan Mulally told a news conference. "We could easily have a market of 2,000 to 3,000 of these middle-market planes."

The new jet would include at least two size options and would ultimately replace Boeing's 225-seat narrow-body 757 and 300-seat 767 wide-body, Mulally said.

The Chicago-based company, which builds its jetliners near Seattle and in Long Beach, California, has now failed to find significant orders for its last two major jet proposals.

As it unveiled the fast jet concept in March 2001, Boeing shelved a 100-seat stretch of its 416-seat 747 jumbo jet, which failed to land a single order even as rival Airbus SAS sold nearly 100 of its new 550-set A380 megajet.

But Mulally said declining 747 orders and steady demand for the smaller 737 and 777 families, combined with catastrophic cash losses at most airlines, pointed to the need for more efficiency, not size or speed.

"The future ... is clearer to me now than ever before," Mulally said.

Boeing had already said it expected jet deliveries of 275 to 285 in 2003, about half the deliveries of two years ago, and Mulally said he expects about the same number in 2004, with production trending higher in 2005.

"It all depends on how safe we keep the world, how fast we get the traffic coming back and how quickly airlines can repair their balance sheets and balance capacity with demand," Mulally said. "Hopefully with where we are, we are at the bottom of this cycle."

Boeing's deliveries are projected to fall below Airbus' for the first time ever in 2003 and shrink its jetliner revenues to a level below military sales totals.

But the aerospace giant can afford to begin developing the new jet because most of the major costs will not come for several years, Mulally said. He declined to put a price on the project, but some analysts estimate it could cost $10 billion or more.

As the new airplane rolls off the assembly line, it could replace aging Airbus A300s and A310s, Lockheed L-1011s, DC-10s and early versions of Boeing's own 767, Mulally said.

The new plane is expected to be sized between the 737 and the 767 and would still travel faster than older planes of that size. It would most closely resemble the 777, Boeing's most recent jet, Mulally said.