Boeing's big ambition for its largest ever plane

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Media captionThe new 747-8 is one of the star attractions at the Paris Air Show

Upstairs in the latest jumbo jet from Boeing, the view to the cockpit and the slim, elongated cabin creates an airy and spacious environment similar to that in executive private planes.

Only here, some 400 passengers will be tagging along in the cavernous economy class sections on the floor below.

The Boeing 747-8 is the largest plane ever built by the US aerospace giant, which makes it an ideal people-mover on a grand scale.

But at least there are windows, observes a Boeing test engineer, who has been banned by the company from revealing her name.

"We've been doing a lot of flights where we do 'roller coasters'," she says, referring to manoeuvres such as deliberate mid-air stalling of the giant aircraft.

"Windows on a flight tester is a wonderful thing," she adds, following a nine-hour flight from Boeing's headquarters in Seattle. "Moving sickness can be bad on a freighter."

Big plane market

Boeing initially launched its stretched 747 as a freighter aircraft about a year ago, with its Intercontinental passenger version taking to the wings for the first time as recently as March this year.

The "dash-eight", as they call the plane, flew straight into an order flurry that saw it clock up some $5.4bn (£3.3bn) worth of deals at list price during the first day of the Paris air show.

With 17 fresh orders for the 747-8 Intercontinental, Boeing has pulled in 50 firm and five conditional orders for the passenger version, in addition to some 70 orders for the 747-8 windowless freighter.

According to Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Jim Albaugh, the orders "demonstrate the market's need for an airplane of its size and range" - a statement that in itself demonstrates a sharp change in the sentiment of the Seattle-based planemaker.

During recent years, when the Airbus A380 has been milking its status as the world's largest passenger plane for all its worth, Boeing has been pooh-poohing its European rival's insistence that giant hub-to-hub planes are what airlines want.

Big investment

Though almost just as enormous, the latest jumbo jet from Boeing has failed to whip up the sort of frenzy that the A380 has been generating.

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Media captionRandy Tinseth, Boeing marketing chief:" Already we have 109 orders for the airplane...both the passenger and the freighter"

Sure, the Boeing is actually a longer aircraft, but it is also just a reversion of an ageing model.

Airbus is eager to stress how its A380 is a showcase of modern technologies and insists the 747-8 is, to all intents and purposes, just an old plane that has been stretched.

On the ground, sheltered from the rain by the 747-8's vast wings, Boeing Commercial Airplanes' marketing chief Randy Tinseth hits back.

"This is a relatively small market in terms of units," he says, predicting a market for some 820 "large airplanes" over the next 20 years. "But it is big in terms of investment."

'All-new airplane'

Boeing has invested some $27bn in the "dash-eight", hence Mr Tinseth insists it has "essentially created an all-new airplane that can compete with another all-new airplane, the A380".

The 747-8 shares its engine technology with the 787 Dreamliner, making it quieter, cleaner and less thirsty than rival aircraft, Boeing insists.

"The 747-8 Intercontinental is more than 10% lighter per seat than the Airbus A380 and consumes 11% less fuel per passenger," Boeing says in a statement.

Image caption Boeing insists that the 747-8 is much more than just a stretched version of the existing jumbo jet

"That translates into a trip-cost reduction of 21%, and a seat-mile cost reduction of more than 6% compared to the A380."

A380 grounded

Airbus would dismiss such claims, of course, and counters that the "dash-eight" is already late to the market.

In addition, given the string of delays Boeing has had with its high-profile 787 Dreamliner project, there are good reasons to doubt the US firm's promise to deliver "dash-eights" to customers by year-end.

But if the A380 could have dominated the skies above Le Bourget during this week's show, with the rival 747-8 merely landing or taking off, it has failed to do so.

After an accidental clipping of a wing during parking on Sunday, the A380 has been grounded, leaving the two rivals competing on an even keel here at the Paris show.

This year's Paris Air Show takes place at Le Bourget exhibition centre on the outskirts of Paris from 20-26 June.

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