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Boeing launches cargo version of 777

Boeing Co. announced the official launch of a long-range cargo version of its popular twin-engine 777 jetliner on Tuesday, and said Air France had already ordered five of the freighters with options to purchase three more.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Boeing Co. is launching a cargo version of its long-range, twin-engine 777 after receiving an order from Air France for five of the airplanes, the Chicago-based aerospace company announced Tuesday.

Air France also took options on three more 777 freighters on Tuesday, less than a week after receiving approval from the Air France-KLM board of directors. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of 2008, executives with the company and the airline said.

The orders would be worth about $1 billion at list prices, but airlines typically negotiate steep discounts, especially on multiple and launch orders.

Air France Chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta said the planes would be used to replace aging Boeing 747-200 freighters and would save money because Air France’s fleet already includes 777-200ER and -300ER passenger planes.

Air Canada also will be part of the 777 freighter launch. Last month it ordered two 777 freighters, 16 passenger versions of the plane and 14 787s.

The 777 freighter is based on long-range 777-200LR passenger aircraft, which is scheduled to enter service early next year. Last fall when Boeing first offered the plane, it said it would be able to carry 222,000 pounds of cargo up to 6,400 miles.

On Tuesday, Boeing said it had shortened the freighter’s range to just under 5,000 miles and boosted its payload to 229,000 pounds. Lars Andersen, 777 program manager, said airlines told Boeing it was more important to carry more cargo than fly farther.

Airbus SAS, Boeing’s chief rival, has said its new superjumbo A380 freighter will be able to carry 341,000 pounds of cargo about 6,400 miles when it enters service in 2008.

Separately Tuesday, Boeing Chairman Lew Platt told analysts at a conference in Seattle that the company is down to a short list of both internal and external candidates in its search for a successor to Harry Stonecipher as chief executive officer.

Platt said the search is being conducted “purposefully and without haste” with the aid of an executive search firm while interim CEO James Bell handles day-to-day matters.

Stonecipher resigned March 6 as a result of what Boeing said was improper conduct during an affair with a female company executive.