BOEING IS TO launch the stretched 777-300 at the Paris air show later this month on the back of firm orders for around 30 aircraft from Asian and Middle Eastern airlines.

Launch customers are expected to include All Nippon Airways (ANA), Cathay Pacific Airways, Egyptair, Korean Airlines (KAL) and Thai Airways International. Boeing declines to comment.

United Airlines, launch customer for the 777 and first operator of the -200 series, is also showing interest in the -300, but is not expected to be included in the initial order book.

The main push for Boeing to launch the 777 stretch has come from Asia- Pacific carriers, in particular Cathay Pacific, Thai and the two largest Japanese carriers ANA and JAL. The aircraft is needed to replace 747-200/300s on high-density medium-range regional routes, such as from Hong Kong to Sydney and Melbourne. The higher-capacity stretch is also needed in Japan to replace early-build 747s used on domestic routes.

The stretched 777 will be more than 10m longer than the current -200 series, making it some 3.5m longer overall than the 747. The stretch adds ten frames, or 5.3m to the length forward of the wing and nine frames, (4.8m) aft. It will seat up to 550 people in a high-density lay out, or 420 in a tri-class configuration.

The 777-stretch, now designated the -300X, is expected to offer the same seat-mile costs of the 747-400, but across typical 747-200 sector lengths.

ANA holds firm orders for 18 Pratt & Whitney PW4000-series -powered 777s and holds options on a further seven. The first of its "A"-market -200 aircraft is due to be delivered in October.

The Japanese carrier is expected to convert at least the last seven options to the -300. JAL is not expected to wait long before it follows ANA and converts some of its "A"-market aircraft to the stretch.

Cathay Pacific is expected to convert the remaining seven of its first 11 Rolls-Royce Trent 800-powered 777-200s to -300s. The first four -200s will be delivered by August 1996, and the first -300 in May 1998. Cathay also holds options on a further 11 aircraft.

Korean Airlines, which has publicly spurred the engine makers into providing a 422-436kN (95,000-98,000lb) powerplant for the stretch, is widely expected to order at least eight 777-300s. KAL now holds eight 777 orders and has options on a further eight.

Thai Airways International has orders for eight 200s. Thai has now also agreed in principle to purchase six stretched aircraft and take options on a further two.

Source: Flight International