Boeing Bullish on New 747 Despite Slow Sales

May 11--Boeing is vigorously promoting its next-generation 747-8 jumbo jet in the Asia Pacific, the region it believes will have the greatest demand for the high-capacity aircraft over the next two decades.

The US-based plane builder believes that of an expected 900 Boeing 747-size and larger aircraft to be sold globally over the next 20 years, about 500 will go to the Asia Pacific, where air travel is outgrowing other areas.

Randy Tinseth, a vice-president for 747 sales at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, yesterday discussed the market potential for the new 747-8 in relation to Boeing's recently released commercial forecast.

The annual forecast suggests that the Asia-Pacific region alone would need about 7,200 new aeroplanes worth US$770 billion over the next 20 years, underlining the industry's view that the region will remain the largest market outside North America for new commercial aircraft.

But the aviation industry's enthusiasm about the new generation of B747 does not seem to be as strong as the company expected.

Since its announced launch of the B747-8 in November last year, the company has not yet sold a single unit of the passenger version -- the B747-8 Intercontinental -- although it managed to secure firm orders for a total of 18 of the cargo version -- the 747-8 Freighters.

Ten orders came from Cargolux of Luxembourg and eight from Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA) of Japan. The combined value is about $5 billion.

In a briefing in Bangkok yesterday, Mr Tinseth said Boeing was continuing discussions with customers for the 450-seat B747-8 Intercontinental and expected to receive the first order this year.

"Airlines are delaying decisions [to buy 747-8s] in order to take a good hard look at the aircraft," he said, noting that orders could be received as the aircraft's development moved into maturity stage.

Boeing is eyeing all existing B747 operators, including Thai Airways International, as potential buyers for the B747-8s, which are slightly longer, more fuel-efficient, quieter and have greater load capacity than the current 747-400.

The company is looking to sell many of the new B747-8s as replacements to the B747-400s or to add to long-haul high-capacity fleets.

Boeing is currently in direct competition with the A380, the mega double-decker jet being developed by its European rival Airbus.

THAI is an obvious potential buyer of B747-8s. THAI operates 18 747-400s and two 747-300s.

Since its inception in 1966, to April this year, Boeing has produced 1,430 units of different versions of B747. Today, B747s make some 10,000 weekly flights at over 200 airports around the world.

Boeing has yet to decide on the catalogue price of the B747-8 Intercontinental but it expects to finalise the price sometime in the middle of this year.

Between now and the first roll-out of B747-8s in 2009, Boeing expects a very small number of sales of the current B747 version, production of which will gradually be phased out.