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By Tim Hepher
LONDON, July 13 Boeing plans to bring out
a new minor model of its best-selling 737 passenger jet with
extra seats, the head of its planemaking division said, stepping
up efforts to woo low-cost carriers in competition with Europe's
Announcing the move on the eve of the Farnborough Airshow,
the head of the U.S. planemaker's jetliner branch said on Sunday
the 200-seat variant would be five percent cheaper to operate.
It will be certified to hold 200 passengers which is 11 more
than the maximum allowed in the most popular version of the 737,
Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner said.
Boeing will add an extra door behind each wing to allow an
increase in the maximum of seats which, under safety rules, is
closely tied to the number and layout of evacuation points.
Airbus last month announced a similar drive to increase
capacity on its A320 passenger jet family as airlines seek to
drive down costs per seat.
Planemakers compete aggressively for orders of single-aisle,
medium-haul jets and are producing at record levels.
More seats also mean lower operating costs per seat - the
key driver of aircraft economics.
Airbus has said it will increase the certified maximum
number of seats for its A320 model to 189 seats from 180 seats.
Conner said he was not worried about a let-up in demand for
such airplanes, despite concerns among some airlines and
analysts about overcapacity that have taken the edge off a
two-year surge in aerospace industry share prices.
"We feel upward pressure at the rates we have today, and are
seeing much more demand than we have (built into) our production
rates," he said.
The same upward pressure is also true of the
carbon-composite 787 Dreamliner wide-body jet, whose production
has stabilized at 10 a month, he said.
Conner said he was confident the "more efficient" 787 would
be able to compete effectively against a revamped version of the
Airbus A330 that Boeing's rival is expected to launch on Monday.
Analysts say demand for the A330 has held up longer than
either company expected due in part to production delays on the
787 Dreamliner and Airbus plans to re-launch the aircraft with
new engines in order to prevent sales from falling. Airbus says
its revamped jet will be as efficient as the 787.
Conner acknowledged there was a gap in availability of 787
Dreamliners but predicted this would be short lived.
"Availability is a concern but they are not in the
marketplace until 2018 and by that time we will be at
significantly higher production rates."
Boeing has said it will increase production of Dreamliners
to 12 a month in 2016 and 14 a month by the end of the decade.
Boeing continues to assess a gap in the market for aircraft
seating just over 200 people, replacing the out-of-production
200-243-seat 757, but has several other "top priorities"
including work to upgrade its 737 and 777 models, Conner said.
(Editing by Mark Potter)