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Originally published Friday, March 11, 2011 at 5:40 PM

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Double-stretched 787 could be next on Boeing's list

Boeing is pitching airline customers on a third and bigger version of its Dreamliner family that could be delivered in 2016: the 787-10.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

How the biggest Dreamliner would stack up

Boeing 787s

787-8: The initial version of the Dreamliner is in flight test. The first delivery to ANA of Japan is expected later this year.

The plane carries 210 to 250 passengers and has a range of about 9,000 miles.

787-9: The second, stretch version of the Dreamliner is in development. The first delivery to Air New Zealand is expected in late 2013.

The plane carries 250 to 290 passengers and has a range of about 9,500 miles.

787-10: A proposed double-stretch version of the Dreamliner is being pitched to airlines. Boeing said customers would like to have it by 2016.

The plane would carry about 300 passengers and would have a range of about 7,900 miles. Its main attraction is economy.

Airbus A350

A350-900: The first A350 is scheduled to enter airline service in late 2013. The plane seats about 314 passengers and has a range of 9,300 miles.

Source: Boeing, Airbus

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Add one more airplane to Boeing's lengthy to-do list.

Boeing is pitching airline customers a third, bigger version of its Dreamliner family that could be delivered in 2016: the 787-10.

"It's such an incredible airplane," senior Boeing executive Nicole Piasecki said. "The feedback from the airlines is very, very positive."

Boeing long has studied a 787-10, which would be the same size as the smallest member of the 777 family.

But as the company lately talked more about enhancing the 777 with a new wing, the possibility of a 787-10 launch seemed to recede.

Yet in an interview this week, Piasecki made clear a revamped 777 is some years out, the last in a long list of planned airplane developments.

She indicated the 787-10 could be first on that list.

The initial 230-seat version of the Dreamliner, the 787-8, should be delivered later this year. The second version, the stretched 270-seater 787-9, is in development and scheduled to enter service in late 2013.

The proposed double-stretch 787-10 sacrifices the long range of the first two models for extra seating and cargo capacity. However, analysts are skeptical the bigger version still will be as efficient.

Piasecki, vice president of business development and strategic integration, said the 787-10, which would seat about 300 passengers, can outperform the initial version of Airbus's latest jet, the A350-900 that's set to debut in 2013.

She cited a range of about 7,900 miles, which is some 1,400 miles short of the range of the Airbus A350-900.

But she said Boeing estimates its lighter plane would be 12 percent cheaper to operate than the Airbus jet.

Airlines "will get incredible economics out of the (787)-10 if they don't need the range," Piasecki said.

Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with Teal Group, is skeptical.

"These are highly theoretical numbers" based on assumptions about the plane's weight and aerodynamic characteristics, he said. "Everyone is eager to get a plane with these characteristics. Who wouldn't be? But it's a purely theoretical construct."

Aboulafia said the 787-10 economics Piasecki touted will depend heavily on engine makers delivering more powerful, yet efficient engines.

Another uncertainty is whether Boeing and its supplier partners can adjust their manufacturing systems and produce the plane on schedule.

The Dreamliner's global supply chain repeatedly ground to a halt in the past few years. Although it is now delivering better quality 787-8 sections to the final assembly site in Everett, it has yet to ramp up to a faster pace.

Boeing will "look at the reality of how the production system would handle it," Piasecki said. "There's lots of things we'd have to work on before we determine the timing."

Piasecki insisted the overlap with the 777 family is not an issue.

The 787-10 would be the same size as a 777-200ER. But the 777 has a much longer range, and she anticipates that plane would still sell to airlines that need to fly 8,900 miles.

The much larger 365-seat 777-300ER, Boeing's best-selling large airplane, is well-positioned in the market and won't be threatened by an Airbus rival until after 2015.

And if Airbus then produces, as expected, a version of the A350 that would be competitive with the 777-300ER, that's the airplane Boeing would revamp, likely with a new wing.

If the 787-10 moves from theory to reality, it will add to Boeing's already full plate.

Piasecki and Boeing Vice President Mike Bair talked of the possible launch of an all-new smaller jet family to replace the 737 and 757 single-aisle airplanes, to enter service around the end of this decade.

But if the 787-10 goes ahead, it would come first, she indicated.

Put it another way: Boeing may squeeze in the 787-10 after it finishes the 787-9, developing it concurrently with the 767 Air Force tanker.

The company would deliver the double-stretch 787-10 before the 737/757 replacement jet family, and follow that with the 777 enhancement with a new wing. All these projects are to be complete by around the end of this decade.

That's "a desirable, but theoretical, and extremely ambitious road map," Aboulafia said. "You have to wonder where the cash is going to come from."

Piasecki said the resources needed for a derivative airplane would not be so great, and Boeing would need only part of its Dreamliner design team to develop the 787-10.

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

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