Boeing may not see a substantial order for its new 747-8 passenger jumbo before the end of the year, even as Airbus delays deliveries of its competing A380, one of the US planemaker's executives said on Tuesday.
The full effect of Airbus's problems will take some time to be felt, the executive said, and would not have an immediate effect on sales of Boeing's largest plane.
"We potentially could have an order by the end of this year," said Dan Mooney, vice president of Boeing's 747 program on Tuesday. "But confident is probably too strong a word."
Earlier this month Boeing said its new 747-8 Intercontinental -- its largest ever passenger plane -- will be the same length as its hot-selling 747-8 freighter, despite calls by some airlines to make it shorter.
The Chicago-based planemaker reckons the greater capacity and improved wings on the new plane will attract customers in the long term, but so far it has notched firm orders for only three 747-8 Intercontinentals from unnamed buyers. Meanwhile, it has orders for 44 747-8 Freighters.
"We don't have a launch customer," said Mooney, despite "pretty broad" interest from airlines.
Boeing is in discussions with a number of carriers, including Dubai airline Emirates, Mooney said on Tuesday, but declined to predict when a firm order for a large number of 747-8s might be made.
Under its latest plan, the 747-8 Intercontinental will be 18.3 feet (5.6 metres) longer than the 747-400, its largest existing plane. Originally Boeing proposed that the new plane would be about 12 feet longer than the 747-400.
The new plane will fit 467 seats, bringing it closer to competing with Airbus's A380, which is set to be the largest ever commercial plane, with 555 seats in a standard layout.
Despite wiring problems pushing the A380 up to two years behind schedule, Mooney said there was not yet any firm indication that Boeing will be able to pick up orders from disappointed A380 customers.
"I think all of that (Airbus A380 delays) is going to take a while to sort itself out," he said. "Airlines are going back and trying to understand what that situation means for them, and how they might adjust their fleet plans."
So far no airlines have canceled A380 orders, but Virgin Atlantic has pushed orders back by four years and Emirates said it was looking at leasing Boeing 777s to fill the gap caused by delays. Others have said they are considering their options.
Emirates President Tim Clark said last week the airline was interested in buying Boeing's 747-8s, but would prefer Boeing's original plan for a shorter stretched version.
A slightly smaller plane that can fly longer distances would suit some Asian and Middle Eastern airlines, which tend to fly longer routes than European and US carriers.
Boeing's Mooney did not rule out the possibility of two stretched versions on Tuesday, but said it would prefer to offer only one version -- the same length as the freighter -- for reasons of simplicity.
"It's primarily a business decision whether it makes sense to develop and offer two different configurations," said Mooney. "Does the market size justify that? We think it's a benefit to reduce complexity of what's in an airline's fleet. Right now we think the right answer is one (configuration)."
The first 747-8 freighter is scheduled for delivery to Luxembourg's Cargolux in late 2009. The first Intercontinental is tentatively set for delivery a year later.