Boeing Sets Future 787 Freighter to Fend Off Airbus Jets

Boeing Co. has picked the 787-9 Dreamliner as the variant to be used for a future freighter, a step toward opening a new market for the plane and extending a lead over Airbus SAS in cargo aircraft.

The model will be based on the 787-9, the mid-sized version of the planes in that family, and eventually would replace the 767 freighter, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Vice President Mike Bair said in an interview at the Paris Air Show. He didn’t give a precise timeline.

“At some point in the far distant future the -9 is the freighter platform,” Bair said. “It’s the longest-range version and because of that it ends up being the highest-density freighter that we could make.”

A freight-only Dreamliner would create more buyers for a plane that Chicago-based Boeing pitches as having a 20 percent fuel-economy boost over comparable twin-engine jets. It also would extend Boeing’s wide-body sales lead, because Airbus’s largest models, the A350 and A380, don’t have cargo versions to compete with the U.S. company’s 777 and 747 freighters.

From the beginning of the Dreamliner’s development, Boeing designed the plane’s fuselage so it could efficiently handle pallets, Bair said. On the 787-9, which is set for its first flight this year, systems were cleared in the hull to install a cargo door, he said.

List Prices

The 787-9 sells for $243.6 million at list price, while the 767 freighter -- in service since 1995 -- retails for $185.4 million, according to Boeing’s website. Airlines typically get a discount.

Boeing hasn’t published a list price for a freight-only 787-9, and Bair said it was too early for decisions such as whether it would come before a cargo version of the 777X, the upgrade of the twin-engine airliner that is targeted to enter service by decade’s end. Freight variants are usually the last plane in an aircraft family to be built.

The 787-9 is a stretched version of the 787-8 Dreamliner, which made its commercial debut in 2011 after more than three years of delays. Boeing is lengthening the Dreamliner again for the 787-10 version that was introduced yesterday in Paris.

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