Boeing Co. is starting work on a stretched-out version of its popular 787 Dreamliner jet.
Boeing announced the formal launch of its 787-10 program at the Paris Air Show on Tuesday and says it already has commitments from five customers, including United Airlines.
The Chicago-based company has already started designing the larger version of the Dreamliner, which will seat 300 to 330 passengers. Boeing plans to assemble the first 787-10 in 2017 with delivery the following year.
The 787-10 is in “great demand,” Boeing CEO Jim McNerney told Bloomberg Television.
United, a unit of United Continental Holdings Inc., is converting 10 existing Dreamliner orders into the new 787-10 and buying 10 more planes. The Chicago-based carrier said the deal would make it the so-called launch customer in North America and push its Dreamliner tally to 65 planes.
Air Lease said it would take 30 of the 787-10 variant and three 787-9s. International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways, committed to 12 787-10s, subject to shareholder approval.
Boeing recently began assembly of the first 787-9 in Everett. That version of the aircraft holds between 250 and 290 passengers, about 40 more than the original Dreamliner, the 787-8.
The Paris Air Show is a platform for the race for sales between Boeing and its European rival Airbus, which is hoping that the event spark interest in its A350, its long-haul wide-body rival to the 787 and 777.
Building a Dreamliner capable of seating about 330 people is part of Boeing’s strategy to upgrade two aircraft families, along with the 777, to defend its lead over Airbus in sales of the twin-aisle planes used for long-haul flying. The 890 Dreamliner orders before today were split between 535 for the 787-8 and 355 for the bigger 787-9.
“Experience has told us that based on what we see out there today that the -10 could be at least as big as either of the other two,” McNerney said.
An upgraded version of Boeing’s 777 will be announced this year, McNerney said. The first variant, the 777-9X, will be followed by the smaller 777-8X with longer range, Boeing has said. With the 787 and 777X models, Boeing will have five twin-engine planes with seating capacity ranging from 210 to more than 400.
“The breadth of that product line will give customers around the world more choice than our competitor will be able to offer,” McNerney said.