Boeing President Promises Decision On 747 Fate by August's End

SEATTLE (AP) -- The future of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet will be decided by the end of August, according to The Boeing Co.'s interim president, James A. Bell.

On Wednesday, hours after the first flight of the Airbus A380, the superjumbo that eclipses the 747 as the biggest passenger jet, Bell told reporters the 747 will likely remain in production only if customers show interest in a larger, more efficient model called the 747 Advanced.

To keep the 747 series going, the Boeing board must approve going ahead with the 747 Advanced, which would carry as many as 450 passengers, about 30 more than the 747-400, the only model of the series in production, Bell said at a news conference after the company announced earnings.

The Airbus A380, which holds 555 people in standard three-class configuration but could hold up to 840 people, made its maiden flight Wednesday in France.

Airbus has reported 154 orders for the plane, including orders from Air France, Lufthansa and Virgin.

Boeing has 28 orders for 747s, 20 of them freighters. It is assembling one a month at the company's widebody airplane factory in Everett, Washington, but could accelerate production to clear the way for a shutdown by late next year.

In 35 years of 747 production, the company has sold 1,384 of the four-engine jumbos. The last order for the passenger version of the 747 was in 2002.

For about a year, Boeing officials have been showing prospective customers drawings of the 747 Advanced, designed to fill a niche in the market between the 350-seat Boeing 777 and the Airbus A380.