By KATHY DAY
EVERETT – Boeing and China Airlines executives Friday celebrated delivery of two new 747-400 freighters with talk about more traffic and prospects for a bigger cargo airplane.
The 747-400Fs are the first of 13 to be delivered to the Taiwanese carrier in the next seven years, with the next one due in August.
The order, which includes an option for four additional aircraft, is the largest for the plane in Boeing history. The first one took off late Friday, headed for San Francisco, where it was to pick up a load that included cherries and peaches bound for Taiwan.
Jim Edgar, Boeing’s regional director of cargo marketing, called the air cargo industry "not just a trade facilitator but a trade creator" during a press briefing attended by a large contingent of Taiwanese reporters and camera crews.
Asia, and particularly Taiwan, has shown strong growth in cargo traffic, Edgar said.
For example, China Airlines reported 20 percent growth in cargo revenues in 1999 and 30 percent growth in the first half of this year.
For the first time, Boeing this year will deliver more 747-400 freighters than passenger models.
That could all be good news at Boeing, which may soon begin developing an even larger version of its "Queen of the Skies" at the company’s Everett facility, where the plane would be assembled. Only a year ago, before the China Airlines deal was signed, Boeing was on the verge of additional layoffs because 747 production was trailing off.
No timeline has been determined for what Boeing is calling the 747X family of jetliners designed to compete with a new A3XX superjumbo announced by Airbus Industrie. But Edgar confirmed Friday that development of a passenger model could be launched within six to nine months.
The company has evaluated the production capability for the larger craft and determined it could be built on the existing 747 line, he said.
It’s in the hands of customers who must make firm commitments before the company would proceed, he added.
"If we had a commitment to a freighter first, we would launch that first," Edgar said, noting it is more likely that the cargo version would follow within 12 to 18 months after the first passenger 747X entered service.
"We anticipate entering service perhaps slightly earlier than the A3XX," he added.
Airbus expects to have its jet ready in 2005 at a development cost of $12 billion. Boeing would spend just $4 billion for development.
Larry Dickenson, senior vice president of the Boeing Commercial Airlines Group, said Friday that he talked Thursday night with Brian Chou, senior vice president for China Airlines, about the prospects for the superjumbo.
Chou said if the market demand is strong enough, his airline would be "willing to commit to a larger airplane and improve our service." He didn’t specify, however, whether he’d pick a Boeing model or one from Airbus.
China Airlines ranks among the world’s top 10 air cargo carriers, with Taiwan the third largest trans-Pacific market behind Japan and the People’s Republic of China.
If Boeing proceeds with a new 747X, it could also include a "stretch" model 33 feet longer and able to carry 66,700 pounds more cargo than the freighters delivered to China Airlines on Friday. It would be faster, lighter and more fuel efficient than the 747-400F. And it would feature upgraded flight-deck technology.
Dickenson called the plane "an attractive alternative to our growing list of 747 customers."
Boeing officials anticipate a small market for the larger craft, be it the Airbus version or Boeing’s, so they say they don’t believe it justifies an all-new design. Instead, they’re pinning their hopes on derivatives of their highly successful 747, which has logged 33 billion air miles since its introduction 30 years ago.
A year ago, the 747-400 production line was struggling to meet capacity, said Ray Conner, Boeing vice president for Asia/Pacific Sales. "The need to increase production from two planes a month to 21/2 "allowed us to not reduce, but maintain a higher level of workforce," he said.
Now, he added, "we are in the midst of a production rate increase. … Things look very bright for this project."
You can call Herald Writer Kathy Day at 425-339-3453 or send e-mail
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