Boeing will give the 747-8 Intercontinental a major marketing push at a forum of potential Asian customers in Hong Kong next month, as it seeks to secure a major launch order for the passenger version of the airliner.

According to industry sources, the manufacturer is certain to adopt the same fuselage length for the passenger model as for the freighter - changing its previous plan to make the passenger model only slightly longer than today's 747-400. This will push the aircraft's three-class capacity towards 500 seats: Boeing says it would seat around 496 passengers in a three-class layout (Flight International, 25-31 July).

Key candidate airlines will be fully briefed on the longer version of the 747-8I at a meeting in Hong Kong on 5 September. Carriers expected to attend include Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas and Singapore Airlines. Boeing says near-term objectives with the airline group include agreeing internal layouts - encompassing the proposed "Skyloft" concept - with a firm configuration expected in 2007.

Although the plan to increase the size of the 747-8I - which brings its capacity within 10% of that of the rival Airbus A380 - will result in a range penalty, it is understood to be favoured by most airlines studying the aircraft. As well as providing greater capacity, adopting the 747-8F's stretch offers better long-term prospects for the aircraft as a converted freighter that could improve residual values and financing prospects, say observers. "It could kick-start orders for the passenger model," says a source.

However, Airbus has responded aggressively to the possible threat by offering A380 discounts, which sources say could hamper prospects for the 747-8I, particularly with existing A380 customers like Qantas.

Source: Flight International