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Boeing Clears 'Dreamliner' For Take Off

By Agence France-Presse The Boeing Co. said Dec. 16 it had approved the next phase of the program to launch its 7E7 "Dreamliner" jet, a plane that the aircraft maker is staking its commercial future on. The Boeing board signed off on a decision to offer the 7E7 for sale, green-lighting a program that the Chicago-based company hopes will bolster its battered aircraft-manufacturing business and blunt the growing threat from the European Airbus consortium. The company has no firm orders for the jet yet, but officials said they expect the demand for this class of plane to be in the order of 3,500 planes, or $400 billion in business, over the next 20 years. The board's decision is the penultimate step in bringing the "super-efficient" Dreamliner to market: The company requires a certain number of firm orders before it proceeds to production. For now, assembly is tentatively scheduled for 2006, with the first plane scheduled to enter service in 2008. The Boeing unit is banking on the economics and long-haul capabilities of the 7E7 to appeal to cash-strapped carriers. It says the twin-aisle jet will be 20% more fuel-efficient than similar midsize jets, with the long-haul range of a much larger jet, capable of flying nonstop between city pairs such as Washington and Rome. Boeing officials claim the jet is a "game changer," enabling airlines to fly 200 to 250 passengers directly to their destination, without obliging them to make connections. The 7E7 program -- Boeing's first launch of an all-new jet in more than a decade -- has a lot riding on it: The aircraft maker badly needs a successful launch after scrapping plans for the Sonic Cruiser and a proposed stretch version of the 747 in recent years. The company is also banking on the Dreamliner to boost its balance sheet and help it recover the market leadership it will lose to Airbus this year. The aircraft unit's revenues have slumped as the commercial aviation market has cratered, and the European consortium is expected to outsell its U.S. rival for the first time on record in 2003. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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