BOEING AND GENERAL Electric are attempting to sign up Air France as the launch customer for the GE90-100B-powered version of the 777-300.

Boeing programme sources confirm that Air France is "definitely the most likely customer" for the 445kN (100,000lb)-thrust GE90-100B, but suggests that no signing is imminent.

Air France also confirms that it is evaluating the 777, but says that it is not ruling out other long-range types. Boeing demonstrated the 777-200 to Air France directors in February, after one of the carrier's senior 747 pilots flew the aircraft from Dubai to Paris during its return from Asian Aerospace.

An Air France order for 777s would be controversial. The state-owned group is one of Airbus' largest airline customers, having placed nearly 130 orders with the French-based consortium. The airline is also at the centre of a continuing row over the massive state subsidy approved by the European Commission in mid-1994. The approval was backed by a restructuring plan, which promised to cut back the airline's fleet plans.

The first GE90-100B-powered Boeing 777-300 could be delivered in July 1999. Air France has seven GE CF6-80C2-powered Boeing 767-300ERs on firm order, for delivery from March 1999, which could be swapped for 777s. A decision is required quickly, as Boeing has been "protecting" the mid-1999 time slot for the first GE-powered -300 since the programme was launched in 1995

Source: Flight International