Qantas seeks longer-range 787-8

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Australian carrier Qantas has switched its focus to the Boeing 787 in its search for an aircraft capable of operating non-stop between the country’s east coast and Europe.

Qantas has long pushed Airbus and Boeing to produce a jet which can perform such services, with the 9,200nm (17,000km) Sydney-London route its ultimate target.

After working with Boeing to explore range improvements to the 777-200LR, Qantas – which has 45 787s on order – is studying a hypothetical high-gross-weight variant of the 787-8.

Qantas chief financial officer Peter Gregg says: “A 250-seat 787 with the -8’s wing and -9’s undercarriage is being talked about by Boeing.”

Gregg adds that he viewed "hypothetical designs" of this higher-weight, ultra-long-range version of the 787-8 during a visit to Boeing in Seattle.

“If the economics work, it'll be very appealing to us," he says.

Boeing is playing down talk of a potential longer-range 787-8 study, saying that, although queries from customers are part of the product development process, it has "no specific study with Qantas or any other customer” on a hybrid between the 787-8 and 787-9.

The airframer adds that it has “not engaged in a study with any customer” on a longer range 787-8.

Gregg estimates that entry into service for such an aircraft would be unlikely before the middle of the next decade, following the introduction of the 787-9 in late 2010 and the proposed 787-10.

If a high-gross-weight 787-8 variant was developed, Qantas could use it for daily two-class all-premium services to key cities such as London and New York, Gregg says, with around 120-150 first- and business-class seats.

Qantas expects to firm up additional orders for the 787 and convert some of its rights into options to secure production slots.

It expects to receive its first 787 in the fourth quarter of next year. The 45 aircraft on firm order include 15 787-8s and 30 787-9s, which can be switched to the 787-10. Qantas has 20 options and 40 purchase rights and a decision on further firm orders will be made at its May fleet-planning session.