United-Continental to offer Premium Economy on first 787

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United-Continental has confirmed its plans to offer Economy Plus seating on its first Boeing 787, which began final assembly at the airframer's Everett, Washington factory 17 August.

The aircraft will feature 63 Economy Plus seats with extra legroom, in line with the merged carriers plans to begin rolling out the premium economy offering on Continental aircraft in early 2012. Along with 120 economy seats and 36 BusinessFirst seats, the aircraft will seat a total of 219 passengers.

The first United-Continental 787 delivery is expected in early 2012, making the carrier the North American launch customer of the type.

When the carrier first unveiled its 787 configuration in August 2010, the carrier indicated it would outfit the aircraft with 228 seats, including 38 BusinessFirst and 192 economy.

Boeing confirmed today that it had completed FAA required flight testing on the 787 with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines. Certification of the aircraft equipped with General Electric GEnx-1B engines powering United-Continental's aircraft is expected later this year.

Continental initially ordered the 787 in December 2004, when the type was still known as the 7E7, with additional orders placed in June 2006 and March 2007, raising its total to 25 aircraft. Prior to the merger, the first of United's 25 787s was due in 2016, after it announced its order in December 2009.

Combined, the merged carrier holds orders for 50 787s.

United-Continental plans to debut its first aircraft -- Airplane 45 -- between its Houston hub and Auckland, New Zealand. The 11,900km (6,400nm) journey will be the first route for the 787 to take advantage of the 330min extended twin operations (ETOPS) certification that will be available when the fuel quantity indication system software is updated early next year.

The airline said it will clarify its initial 787 flight schedule later this year.