Boeing Co. yesterday announced the first European orders for its 7E7 Dreamliner passenger jet.
Two small charter airlines agreed to buy a total of 10 planes for a list-price value of $1.2 billion. The purchase price is usually discounted, and Boeing did not disclose the actual value of the deals.
First Choice Airways of London agreed to buy six of the planes and Blue Panorama Airlines of Italy signed up for four. While they are small deals with minor carriers, Boeing said the agreements showed the broadening appeal of its newest jet, production of which is to begin in 2006.
The only other orders for the plane are from the Japanese airline ANA, which agreed in April to buy 50, and from Air New Zealand, which said it would take two.
"We really like the customer mix that's starting to develop," Michael B. Bair, Boeing's senior vice president for the 7E7 program, said in a conference call yesterday. "That was clearly one of our goals, to have lots of interest from everybody -- big carriers, little carriers, long-haul, low-cost, charter -- and we're clearly seeing that kind of interest in the airplane."
Boeing has largely staked its commercial future on the 7E7, a 200- to 300-seat jet designed to be more fuel-efficient and cheaper to operate than current planes. European rival Airbus SA, which has edged out Boeing to become the world's top maker of passenger jets, has gone in a different direction. Its new product, the A380, is a 550-seat jet designed to take over globe-hopping routes from the aging Boeing 747.
While the audacious A380 has gotten more attention than Boeing's more modest 7E7, orders for the giant European plane have stalled at 129, said Richard L. Aboulafia , an aviation consultant with Teal Group Corp.
It could be that Airbus's challenge has awakened Boeing from years of complacency as the world leader in commercial aviation, he said. "I think they'd forgotten that everyone needs to be a salesperson, and they were relying on grand-slam home runs" in the form of big orders from major carriers, Aboulafia said. "They lost sight of the little players that can really do a whole lot. These new orders are not home runs, by any means, but they represent the start of some impressive organic demand."
Bair said Boeing has sent proposals to more than 30 airlines involving more than 600 planes, and that 24 of those carriers have accepted the proposals and made security deposits. The next step would be to sign contracts, and Bair said he expects to have roughly 200 planes ordered by year-end.