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Originally published November 7, 2012 at 8:09 PM | Page modified November 8, 2012 at 2:41 PM

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Boeing board OKs offering bigger 787 Dreamliner to customers

The Boeing board in October may have moved a step closer to formally launching soon a stretch version of the Dreamliner, the 787-10.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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Boeing has taken the first formal step toward launching a third version of the Dreamliner, the stretch 787-10.

“We are beginning to discuss more details about the airplane with customers,” spokeswoman Karen Crabtree said Wednesday. She said the talks are conditional “upon our obtaining final board approval to launch the program at a yet-to-be determined date.”

That implies Boeing’s board gave the go-ahead at its October meeting for the last step before formally launching a new plane, known as “authority to offer.”

It means the sales force at Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes can go out and talk terms and pricing with airlines.

Once they have an attractive deal that’s big enough to launch a new airplane program, airplane executives must go back to the board one more time to win a firm commitment to build the jet. That could come late this year or early next.

Last month, Daniel Tsang, an industry analyst with Aspire Aviation, reported British Airways and Singapore Airlines are in advanced discussions about a launch order.

Boeing had earlier targeted 2016 for delivering the 787-10 to customers, though that may have slipped a year or two.

The jet, which will carry up to 40 more passengers than the 787-9 but not fly as far, is thought to have a large potential market with airlines seeking a fuel-efficient plane for international routes shorter than ultra-long-haul routes like, say, Seattle to Singapore.

“We anticipate strong market demand for this third and largest member of the 787 Dreamliner family,” Crabtree said.

The 787-8, seating up to 250 passengers, is already flying; 35 have been delivered so far. With a range of 9,400 miles, it could reach Singapore from Seattle.

The second model, the 787-9, seating up to 290 passengers, flies up to 9,800 miles. The first one is due to be delivered in early 2014.

The 787-10 would be stretched 18 feet longer than the 787-9 and seat up to 320 to 330 passengers.

It’s a shorter-range airplane, ideal for flying less than 7,000 miles. That’s long enough to cover the vast majority of airline routes. For example, it could fly direct Seattle to Tokyo.

Aviation guru Stephen Udvar-Hazy, chief executive of Air Lease Corp., said in 2011 that the 787-10 would be “a great trans-Atlantic airplane” and would also be ideal for routes from the U.S. to Latin America, from the Middle East to Europe and Asia, and even from the West Coast to closer Asian cities.

Boeing believes the 787-10’s superior fuel efficiency could kill the market for Airbus’ best-selling widebody, the A330, and claims it would even have better operating costs than Airbus’ forthcoming A350-900.

Crabtree stressed that the customer discussions on the 787-10 still fall short of a firm decision to launch the airplane.

“The timing of a decision to launch the program will depend on market response during this next phase of our discussions about the airplane,” she said.

The launch of the initial 787 program came four months after the board granted the authority to offer in December 2003.

Boeing doesn’t yet have an answer to one key 787-10 question that’s important to the Puget Sound region:

Given the extra length in the 787-10 fuselage, will the center fuselage section still fit inside the big Dreamlifter cargo jets that ferry Dreamliner parts around the globe?

All the 787 center fuselages are assembled in North Charleston, S.C. If the 787-10 mid-fuselage were too long for the Dreamlifter, then they couldn’t be transported to Everett for final assembly, and all would have to be built in South Carolina. T

Boeing’s Crabtree expected that question, but said the company doesn’t yet have an answer.

“It’s too soon to know,” she said. “We have more work to complete.”

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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