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(Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N) said on Monday it was moving ahead with plans for a stretched version of its fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner but added that more work is needed before it obtained company approval for an official launch.
Boeing has said it has been talking with airlines and leasing companies to define specifications for the 787-10, which would be the biggest version of the plane built mostly of composite materials and a powerful rival to the Airbus EAD.PA A330.
"We've got a lot of support all the way through the company including our board of directors," Larry Loftis, vice president and general manager of the 787 program, said when speaking of the 787-10 during an investor call hosted by RBC Capital Markets on Monday.
"We still have some more work to do before we'd be ready to launch the program and/or be given authority to launch the program," Loftis added.
The expected longer, biggest version of the 787 would be pitched to airlines for long-haul travel.
Loftis said the backlog of 787 orders was currently split at about 60 percent for the 787-8 model, which can carry 210 to 250 passengers, and 40 percent for the 787-9, a slightly bigger version that is designed to seat up to 290. Boeing said final assembly of the 787-9 version would likely start in late spring or early summer next year, with first delivery seen in early 2014.
"Clearly our customers have told us ... that they would prefer us to focus on fuel-burn economics versus extending range" should the company launch a 787-10 version, Loftis said. He said the stretch plane, should it be rolled out, would likely enter service toward the back end of this decade.
Boeing said it was still looking to raise 787 production rates to 10 a month by the end of 2013. Pat Shanahan, Boeing senior vice president for airplane programs, said a rate of seven a month would likely be reached in mid-2013. The company in November reached a five-per-month production rate for the 787, which is built in Washington state and South Carolina.
Shares of Boeing closed up 0.7 percent at $74.27 on Monday.
Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by M.D. Golan and Tim Dobbyn