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Qantas seeks longer-range 787-8

'Hypothetical' high gross weight variant might offer solution for non-stop services between Australia and Europe

Qantas's search for an ultra-long-range airliner capable of flying non-stop services between Australia's east coast cities and Europe has switched focus to the Boeing 787.

The airline has long pushed Airbus and Boeing for an aircraft capable of operating direct services to Europe - with the 17,000km (9,200nm) Sydney-London mission the ultimate target. After working with Boeing to scope range improvements to the 777-200LR, the airline - which has 45 787s on order - is now studying a hypothetical high-gross-weight variant of the 787-8, says Peter Gregg, Qantas chief financial officer.

"A 250-seater 787 with -8 wing and -9 undercarriage is being talked about by Boeing," says Gregg, who adds that he viewed "hypothetical designs" of this higher-gross- 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 plays down talk of a potential longer-range 787-8 study, saying that although queries from customers "are part of the product development process where we learn about desires in the marketplace", it has "no specific study with Qantas or any other customer on a hybrid 787-8/-9".

Boeing adds that it "has not engaged in a study with any customer on a longer range -8".

Gregg estimates that entry into service for such an aircraft is unlikely before the middle of the next decade, following the introduction of the -9 in late 2010 and the proposed -10 "double-stretch" after that. If a high-gross-weight -8 variant were 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.

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

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