Seattle — Nearly 15 years after launching its 777 jetliner, the Boeing Co. is gearing up to announce it has won its board's approval to begin offering a cargo version of the popular twin-engine, long-haul plane, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Saturday.
Air cargo experts predicted Boeing would have an easy time getting early orders for a 777 freighter, since customer interest is already strong.
"There is no question that based on demand for a 100-ton, two-engine efficient freighter, Boeing has extensive expressions of interest that will soon be turned into hard business for the 777 long-range freighter," said Ned Laird, managing director of Air Cargo Management Group, an aviation consulting and research firm in Seattle.
The Chicago-based company, which has most of its commercial jet operations in the Seattle area, has scheduled a closed-door meeting today in Seattle with cargo carriers that will be in town for a separate conference.
Asia, which has more cargo traffic than any other region in the world, is expected to be a key market for sales of the 777 freighter. Potential launch customers include Lufthansa, EVA, Emirates and UPS, the Post-Intelligencer reported.
EVA, a Taiwanese carrier, is one of two launch customers for Boeing's 777-200LR, which will be the world's longest-range passenger jetliner.
EVA has said it has the option to convert its three 777-200LR launch orders to a future freighter version, though it is not expected to switch, the Post-Intelligencer reported.
Lufthansa Cargo has said it would be interested in a 777 freighter, and Emirates has said it could use 777 freighters to feed its super-jumbo freighters.
FedEx has ordered Airbus' A380 freighter. UPS, once a big Boeing customer, has turned to Airbus and its A300 freighter in recent years.
A 777 freighter would be based on the 777-200LR. The first 777-200LR passenger plane is scheduled to enter service with Pakistan International Airlines in early 2006. It will have a range of 9,420 nautical miles.