March 15 (Reuters) - Boeing on Friday chose General Electric Co as its sole engine partner for the forthcoming 777X, indicating that the U.S. aircraft maker was going ahead with the next generation of its most profitable plane.
"This decision to work with GE going forward reflects the best match to the development program, schedule and airplane performance," Bob Feldmann, the vice president and general manager of 777X development, said in a statement.
Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and United Technologies Corp's Pratt & Whitney had supplied engines for early versions of the 777, but GE was picked as sole supplier for the longer-range versions of the aircraft that went into service in the mid-2000s.
The wide-body 777 is one of the most successful jets of all time in terms of sales, and airlines are eager for a version that can go farther on less fuel with more passengers.
"We are aggressively moving forward on our (development) plan and will continue to refine requirements with customers," Feldmann said.
The next steps for the 777X would include approval from Boeing's board for offering the plane to customers and launching it as a committed airplane program. The planes are expected to enter service at the end of the decade.
However, at least one major Boeing customer, aircraft leasing company International Lease Finance Corp, has urged the company not to rush into development of a new 777 model, saying the current 365-seat 777-300ER would work well into the next decade.
The leasing company noted that Boeing in any case had its hand full resolving the crisis related to the grounding of its 787 Dreamliners jets.
Regulators grounded Dreamliners worldwide in January after a battery caught fire on a Japan Airlines Co 787 jet at Boston's Logan airport and a battery melted on an All Nippon Airways Co flight in Japan.
Boeing said on Friday that Dreamliner jets could be airborne within weeks using a new battery system that includes safeguards against overheating, a prediction that drew skepticism from some regulators and industry experts.
Boeing's shares closed at $86.43, while GE's stock closed at $23.44, on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.