PARIS -- Boeing Co. said its stretched 787 Dreamliner promises to match sales of the smallest variant, boosting the plane's order tally as much as 60 percent, as it expanded its widebody lineup to blunt an Airbus SAS challenge.
The 787-10 is in "great demand," CEO Jim McNerney said in a Bloomberg Television interview Tuesday at the Paris Air Show, where United Airlines agreed to buy 20 of the jets and Air Lease Corp. ordered 30.
Building a Dreamliner capable of seating about 330 people is part of Boeing's strategy to upgrade two aircraft families, along with the 777, to defend its lead over Airbus in sales of the twin-aisle planes used for long-haul flying. The 890 Dreamliner orders before Tuesday were split between 535 for the 787-8 and 355 for the bigger 787-9.
"Experience has told us that based on what we see out there today that the -10 could be at least as big as either of the other two," McNerney said.
United, a unit of United Continental Holdings, is converting 10 existing Dreamliner orders into the new 787-10 and buying 10 more planes. The Chicago-based carrier said the deal would make it the so-called launch customer in North America and push its Dreamliner tally to 65 planes.
Air Lease said it would take 30 of the 787-10 variant and three 787-9s. Deliveries for the Los Angeles-based lessor would start in 2019, a year after United starts getting its jets. Commitments for the 787-10 have reached 102, McNerney said during the Air Lease announcement Tuesday. At a list price of $290 million a plane, that's an order value of about $30 billion.
Boeing had received 40 commitments for the 787-10 from Singapore Airlines Ltd. and GE Capital Aviation Services even before the plane became formally available. The 787 is the first jetliner built chiefly of composite plastics, delivering what Boeing says is a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy over comparable twin-engine aircraft.
An upgraded version of Boeing's 777 will be announced this year, McNerney said. The first variant, the 777-9X, will be followed by the smaller 777-8X with longer range, Boeing has said. With the 787 and 777X models, Boeing will have five twin-engine planes with seating capacity ranging from 210 to more than 400.
"The breadth of that product line will give customers around the world more choice than our competitor will be able to offer," McNerney said.