Revamping any of its older planes would likely involve incorporating new technologies developed for the 787, including more efficient engines.
The company could put a revamped 777 on the front burner, ahead of a 737 replacement, McNerney indicated.
Boeing has said previously the 737 single-aisle replacement jet is scheduled to debut around 2014.
"I think we need to see what the A350 is or isn't before we can make a judgment," McNerney said. "What we are doing is maturing the technologies and listening to customers, so we are ready to go when it becomes clear which one we need to do first.
"If the A350 presents a legitimate competitive threat to certain parts of the 777 line, we would respond," McNerney said. "In all likelihood, it would be some kind of a modification [of the 777], because we are not really due to fully replace that plane for many years out.
"We want to be ready to do what the market needs," he said.
On the military side of the business, McNerney said "it would not surprise me" if Boeing spent some of its $8.1 billion in cash and liquid assets acquiring high-tech companies.
"All of us see opportunities there," he said "We are in the flow on deals. We are looking at them regularly."
McNerney said he expects a Chinese company to build a competitive jet in "10 years or 20 years," probably beginning with a single-aisle plane.
But he pointed out that between 10 and 12 percent of Boeing's sales in recent years have been to China, and said he won't change the current strategy of partnering with Chinese aircraft companies.
"It's a huge market for us. We've many partnerships over there," McNerney said. "I am one of these people who believes that partnering with people who are potentially competitors is not necessarily a bad thing."
The successful 787 program presents the prime example of a new model of partnering globally to build airplanes a model McNerney believes has only strengthened Boeing.
"They will find us a tough competitor," he said.
McNerney also addressed the growing pressure on Boeing to go green.
Just a day after proclaiming a new environmental initiative with Virgin Atlantic, McNerney disagreed, though gently, with those environmental groups that assert jets contribute excessively to global warming.
"In every endeavor in mankind, there has to be a balance between getting things done and economic development, [and] treating the environment properly," McNerney said.
"I leave it to our customers and their customers and the politicians who represent them to sort of figure out what that balance is."
McNerney said the 787 will yield 20 to 40 percent improvements in environmental-quality measures such as fuel consumption and noise, and that Boeing will aim for similar improvements in successor jet programs to reduce "the environmental footprint of our products."
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