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Boeing Reportedly to Shelve Super-Jumbo Jet

Aerospace: Company plans to develop a new, faster mid-size airliner, an industry source says.

March 29, 2001|From Times Wire Services

Boeing Co. will put its proposed super-jumbo 747X commercial jet on the back burner and focus on developing an all-new, mid-size plane flying just below the speed of sound, an industry source said Wednesday.

Separately, AirTran Holdings Inc. probably will exercise options for at least 35 more of Boeing's 717 jetliners, which are built at the aircraft maker's plant in Long Beach.

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment on the 747X, but the Seattle-based aerospace giant recently said it was discussing with customers a triangle-shaped "delta-wing" plane that would carry about 250 passengers and cut transatlantic travel by 90 minutes compared with current subsonic flights.

"Boeing is about to announce that they are basically slowing down or backing off development activity for the 747X and that they will be going forward with the new plane," said the industry source, asking not to be identified.

Boeing Chairman Phil Condit last week said he was excited about the possibility of a new mid-size jet that would fly at Mach .95, or 95% of the speed of sound, which is roughly 740 mph, depending on temperature and altitude.

Current airliners fly at Mach .80 to Mach .86, except for the supersonic Concorde, which saw only limited production. Boeing has not booked a single 747X order, while rival Airbus Industrie has sold 66 of its 555-seat A-380 jets, which will succeed the 747 as the world's biggest jetliner when it debuts late this decade.

Sources said Boeing sales and marketing staff had become frustrated with the lack of customer interest in the 747X family, which would add about 100 seats and more flight range to the current model 747-400.

The AirTran 717 orders would be valued at $1.2 billion at list prices. AirTran may start exercising the options about midyear in blocks of one or two aircraft at a time, said Joe Leonard, the low-fare airline's chairman and chief executive.

AirTran was the first customer for the 717, a derivative of the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 that Boeing inherited when it bought its former rival. The orders would be a boost for a plane that hasn't sold as quickly as Boeing had hoped.

About 5,000 people work at the 717 plant in Long Beach.

AirTran, based in Orlando, Fla., initially placed 50 firm orders and took options on another 50. The carrier eventually plans to buy more than 85 airplanes, Leonard said.

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