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Boeing woos airlines with 8 new jets

Aerospace giant to market plans at Paris Air Show

The Associated Press

SEATTLE ­ Boeing executives head to the Paris Air Show this weekhoping to entice customers with a long list of proposed new jetliners ­including another try at larger versions of the jumbo 747-400.

In all, Boeing has eight new versions of existing aircraft under consideration.That's in addition to six aircraft now in full-scale development and 13models in production ­ all part of Boeing's strategy to fill every conceivableniche of the commercial jet market.

Topping the list of possibilities are the 747-400X, a beefed-up versionof the jumbo that would add 575 miles to the earlier model's 8,290-milerange and allow heavier loads; and the 747-400X Stretch, about 23 feet longerthan the 232-foot 747-400.

That would make it the world's largest jetliner, carrying about 70 morepassengers than the 420-passenger 747-400, but with slightly shorter range.

Other planes being considered are the 737-900, a stretched, 180-passengerversion of the workhorse twinjet; a 737 freighter; two newer and heavierversions of the 777; an upgraded 767-300, with larger wings; and a commercialversion of the new Boeing Business Jet ­ minus the luxury trappings.

In January, Boeing shelved plans to develop the superjumbo747-500X and 747-600X, extensive remakes of the 747 that would carry 500passengers or more. Boeing said there wasn't the demand to justify the planes'$7 billion development cost.

This time, Boeing is merely tweaking the decade-old design of the 747-400to increase its size, capacity and economics.

Boeing estimates that over the next 20 years, the need for aircraft largerthan the present 747 will total only 500 planes. Most of that, Boeing plannersbelieve, will be for planes only slightly larger than the existing jumbos.

We're coming up with a product development option that lets uscapture the bulk of the market without having to do an all-new airplane,said Bob DeVore, director of product strategy for Boeing Commercial AirplaneGroup.

At the weeklong Paris show, which opens Sunday, Boeing will focus onits family of new-generation 737s. A new 737-700 was to leave Seattle Thursdayfor France as the centerpiece of Boeing's exhibit.

Archrival Airbus Industrie, by contrast, will have its flagship A340,a smaller A319, and a full-size, cross-section mock-up of the A3XX, itsproposed 555-passenger superjumbo.

Though no airline has ordered the huge, double-decker aircraft, Airbusis sticking to its plan to launch the A3XX program next year, with the firstplane to go into service in 2003, spokesman David Venz said.

Boeing was widely expected to launch the 747-500 and -600 programs atEngland's Farnborough Air Show last September. Instead, Boeing's top executiveswarned of the economic dangers of developing such planes.

Airbus, naturally, sees it differently.

I think the real reason they didn't launch it was nobody wantedto buy essentially a new version of a 30-year-old airplane, Venz said.

Although the 747 has been a great airplane, Venz said, Ithink the industry is saying that for the next very large airplane, it wantsone with state-of-the-art technology on it and a new design. And that'swhat Airbus is offering with the A3XX.

Boeing, conversely, thinks airlines will stick with the tried and true.

DeVore said the proposed 747-400X and 747-400X Stretch would allow airlinesto incrementally expand their business without having to pay for crew trainingand the new equipment, facilities, parts and other costs that all-new aircraftentail. Furthermore, Boeing estimates the stretch version would cut operatingcosts per seat by 8-10 percent, he said.

Boeing's development costs would be a fraction of those for a brand-newplane. And the new jets would be out much sooner ­ if launched as anticipatedlater this year, they could be flying in 2001.

DeVore said he thinks all the proposed planes will probably be launchedin the next year or so, though he acknowledges Boeing already has its platefull.

The company is ramping up to a record production rate of 48 aircrafta month by this time next year, is flight-testing the 737-700, has threeother versions of the 737 in development, and new models of the 757, 767and 777 in the works.

Any new jets will depend on how the other programs are being carriedout, he said. We can't do everything simultaneously. We haveto balance airline requirements with our own resource availability.