Tuesday's approval of plans to start constructing the mid-size, 210-passenger jet capped a two-day meeting of the company's board of directors and comes just two weeks after a top-level shakeup forced by an ethics scandal and worries about Boeing's direction.
The announcement ended an intense rush by other communities to land assembly work for the new jet, which Boeing will build at its Everett plant. The 7E7 eventually will come in three models and fly 200 to 250 people up to 8,300 miles nonstop.
The jet couldn't be formally launched until mid-2004, or even enter the market before 2008. But a decision to begin offering it for sale is an important landmark for a company that has been overtaken by Airbus in the airplane-manufacturing business it had long ruled.
Although Boeing-Wichita will build some of the 7E7, Tuesday's decision on the plane's assembly site does not affect the Wichita plant, the company said.
"Of course, it is good news — the decision to launch the airplane," said Boeing-Wichita spokesman Dick Ziegler. "As far as the final assembly site, we have nothing to say about that — it has little or no impact on us down here."
Last month, Boeing announced it planned to build the forward fuselage section of the new 7E7 jetliner in Kansas, but said it was too early to talk about how many jobs the 7E7 work will mean in Wichita.
The company already builds the nose sections of the 737, 747, 767 and 777 models in Wichita. What makes the 7E7 work different is that Wichita will build not just the empty nose shell, but also a "fully stuffed" section — complete with air conditioning, electrical wiring and other components.
Boeing has yet to announce where it will build the 7E7's engine nacelles and struts. Boeing's Wichita plant, which builds them for other Boeing aircraft, is a strong contender to get that piece of that work.
That decision is not expected until early next year, Ziegler said.
The 7E7 is proposed as a super-fuel-efficient jet to replace Boeing's 757s and 767s with greater range to handle long-distance routes. Made with extensive use of lighter composite materials instead of metal, the airliner would use 20 percent less fuel than other airplanes.
Boeing had not approved any all-new airplane program since the 777 in 1990. Pressure to commit to the 7E7 had grown since the aerospace giant pulled away from launching the 747X and the Sonic Cruiser in the past three years, while Airbus was pulling even in the commercial airplane market.
New CEO Harry Stonecipher strongly endorsed the building of the 7E7 on his first day in the top post.
"The board's decision validates the 7E7's compelling business case and the tremendous customer interest in this airplane," Stonecipher told Boeing workers. "The 7E7 is a game changer and we're anxious to begin offering it to our airline customers."
Everett was chosen as the building site over Kinston, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; and Mobile, Ala., according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which first reported the decision.
Japan Airlines, reportedly a potential launch customer for the 7E7, remains undecided, a spokesman said.
Boeing made presentations to the airline this fall, and "we have been making our own internal study as we will eventually need replacements for our older Boeing 767 aircraft and Airbus A300 types," JAL spokesman Geoffrey Tudor said in Tokyo. "We have made no decision or commitment on the 7E7."
Boeing has been battered by bad news since its move to Chicago in 2001, from the global aviation downturn after the 2001 terrorist attacks to recent scandals involving government contracts.
Former CEO Phil Condit resigned Dec. 1 amid a series of ethics scandals in the company's defense business.
Last month, Boeing fired its chief financial officer, Mike Sears, for unethical conduct, saying he negotiated the hiring of an Air Force missile defense expert while she was still working for the Pentagon and was in a position to influence Boeing contracts. Sears has denied any wrongdoing.
The company also dismissed the former Air Force official, Darleen Druyun, who was hired earlier this year as vice president and deputy general manager of Boeing's Missile Defense Systems unit.
The government also withdrew $1 billion in satellite contracts from the company in response to Boeing's admission that it had information about a rival's bid for the work.
The Pentagon also is reviewing a contract to acquire Boeing 767 refueling tankers that had come under harsh criticism in Congress over its price.