SEATTLE -- Boeing Co. is talking with airlines about a stretch version of its new, fuel-efficient 787 jetliner.
Yvonne Leach, Boeing's spokeswoman for the 787 program, said Tuesday the company is talking with Emirates Airlines, Qantas Airways Ltd. and other airlines about the larger jet. She would not identify any of the other airlines or say how many had expressed interest.
Boeing has been reluctant to commit to a bigger 787 because it would steal sales from an extended-range version of its popular 777. But industry analysts say it's smart for Boeing to offer a larger 787, since rival Airbus SAS' planned A350-900 is being designed to compete with both the 787-9 and the 777-200ER.
"The only thing worse than cannibalizing your own market is having your competitor do it," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Teal Group based in Fairfax, Va.
The largest plane in the new 787 family -- the 787-9 -- will carry 250 to 290 passengers more than 10,000 miles when it enters service in 2010, two years after airlines begin flying the smaller, slightly shorter-range 787-8.
If Boeing goes ahead with a 787-10, as company insiders and industry experts have dubbed it, Leach said it would be comparable in passenger capacity and range to the 777-200ER, which can carry about 300 passengers roughly 8,900 miles.
Emirates Airlines, a growing carrier in the United Arab Emirates, ordered 42 777s in November, but is pressuring Boeing for a bigger 787. Qantas Airways Ltd. of Australia ordered 45 787s last week, plus options and purchase rights for more, and has said it would be interested in a larger 787 if Boeing built it.
Because talks remain preliminary, Boeing has not indicated when it will decide whether to offer the 787-10. On Tuesday, Leach said 2012 would be the earliest the plane could enter airline service.
Chicago-based Boeing has said its twin-engine 787s will be more fuel-efficient than any plane flying today, in part because they'll be made largely from composite materials, which are lighter and more durable than aluminum.
To date, Boeing has 241 firm orders for the 787. Besides the 787-8 and 787-9, the company plans the 787-3, which will carry 290 to 330 passengers about 4,000 miles. It's scheduled to enter service in 2009.
The company's talks about airlines' demand for a bigger 787 was reported Tuesday by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.