The launch of a new aircraft type is pretty rare. It is even less common that the launch is reliant solely on orders for the cargo version.
That is what Boeing has done with its long-awaited announcement that it will build an advanced 747. The launch customers are cargo carriers Cargolux, with 10 firm orders, and Nippon Cargo Airlines, with eight commitments. The Luxembourg-based carrier will take the first stretched 747 - called the 747-8 to show the connection between the new jumbo and its smaller 787 cousin - in the third quarter of 2009.
Next year Boeing says it will secure its first orders for the passenger version of the 747-8, which will seat around 450 people in a three-class configuration. Potential customers are British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.
Although still significantly smaller than the 550-seat Airbus A380, Boeing's move will heat up the battle for large airliners that the US manufacturer at one time looked like it was not going to enter.