Boeing Co. said Tuesday it had completed the basic design for its 747-8 freighter, allowing its engineers to begin work on final detailed designs for the new jumbo jet.
In the year since it formally announced plans to produce a longer, more fuel-efficient version of its four-engine 747, Boeing has received 44 orders for the cargo model and is still waiting for an airline order for the passenger version, dubbed the Intercontinental.
Dan Mooney, vice president of the 747 program, said Boeing is in talks with several passenger airlines and "potentially could have an order by the end of this year, but I would say confident is probably too strong a word.
"We still feel very positive about the Intercontinental market and confident we will have a good market and a good number or orders and customers."
In mid-October, Boeing announced it was lengthening the Intercontinental to make room for about 17 extra seats, bringing the seat count to 467.
On Tuesday, Mooney said Boeing will likely give airlines the option of putting a galley on the plane's second deck, which would boost the total seat count to 479 - even closer to that of rival Airbus SAS's A380, which will seat 555 people.
Mooney said most airlines have expressed greater interest in lengthening the plane to add seats and cargo capacity, rather than extending the plane's flying range.
Mooney did not say whether airlines have shown keener interest in the 747-8 after Airbus recently doubled the A380 production delays to two years.
"I think all of that's going to take a while to sort itself out," Mooney said. "I think the airlines are going back and trying to understand what that situation means for them and how they might adjust their fleet plans and strategies."
Mooney said Boeing remains on track to begin manufacturing the 747-8 freighter in 2008 and expects to conduct its first test flight in early 2009. Airlines will begin receiving them in late 2009, while the passenger version isn't expected to be delivered until August 2010 - about three or four months later than originally planned, Mooney said.
The 747-8 freighter will be about 250 feet long - just over 18 feet longer than its predecessor, the 747-400F. The new freighter will be able to carry roughly 154 tons of cargo up to 5,150 miles, while the 747-400F can carry 124 tons of cargo 5,115 miles.
Both the freighter and passenger versions of the 747-8 will be equipped with the same engine technology as the 787, which Boeing said will make them much more fuel efficient.
Originally, Boeing planned to model the interior of the 747-8 passenger plane off the existing 747, but on Tuesday, Mooney said it would incorporate various design elements of the 787, including larger overhead bins and ceiling lighting that fades or brightens gradually at different times during long flights. Windows will also be larger, but not quite as large as those on the 787, Boeing spokesman Tim Bader said.
Over the next 20 years, Boeing predicts that airlines will demand about 1,000 jumbo jets - about one-third with 500 seats or more, one-third in the 400- to 500-seat range, and about one-third freighters.
Boeing shares fell 36 cents to close at $79.86 on the New York Stock Exchange.
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Since its announced launch of the B747-8 in November, Boeing has not yet sold a single passenger unit. However, it has secured 18 firm orders for 747-8 Freighters.
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