Air France orders 10 777s

It lost out on a prime aircraft order last week to rival Airbus Industrie, but Boeing landed an especially sweet consolation prize after Air France said it was buying as many as 20 Boeing 777 widebody planes. The decision solidified Air France's allegiance to the 777, which so far this year is outselling competing models from Airbus.

Air France, which like Airbus is partly owned by the French government, yesterday placed an order for 10 777-300s and took options to buy another 10. The 20-plane deal, which could be worth about $4 billion, comes five days after Airbus wrested away from Boeing a critical superjumbo-jet order placed by Singapore Airlines. Boeing has not yet published a price for the longer-range 777-300; the most expensive 777 model now sells for up to $192.5 million.

Air France is 62 percent state-owned. The French government also owns a piece of Airbus through its stake in the new European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS).

The longer-range 777-300 is designed to fly long-haul routes while carrying more passengers than any Boeing model except the 747-400 jumbo jet. That is the same niche targeted by Airbus' proposed A340-600, which would become the European manufacturer's second-biggest plane, behind the proposed mammoth A3XX superjumbo plane.

Even before the Air France order, Boeing had logged 52 firm orders for the 777 through August. Airbus during the same period won 17 orders for the A340. But Airbus has a slight lead when orders for its two widebody models--the A330 and the A340--are stacked against Boeing's 767 and the 777 families.

Boeing's stock closed yesterday at $61.13, up $1.25.

Debra Santos, 777 brand manager, said the Air France order shows that Boeing made the right bet when it launched its newest family of airplanes. The 777, which entered service five years ago, has become Boeing's second-best seller, behind the ubiquitous 737.

"The 777 has just been a real success," Santos said. "The marketplace is telling us we did it right."

Air France is buying the longer-range version of the 777-300, one of three current models in the 777 family.

Also yesterday, Boeing said it delivered 117 commercial jets from July to September. That's 18 percent fewer than last year but still on pace to meet this year's target of 490 deliveries. With 359 airplanes built so far this year, Boeing has largely made up for deliveries it missed during the 40-day strike by its engineering workers in February and March.

Boeing had made 455 deliveries by this time last year. But 1999 was a record year for deliveries with 620 planes; this year's scheduled deliveries will be 20 percent less. The 737 leads the pack with 211 deliveries for the first nine months of this year. Other models, all but one of which are much more expensive than the 737, sold in fewer numbers: 777s (38), 757s (37), 767s (30), 717s (20) and 747 jumbo jets (19).

On the military side, Boeing delivered 33 F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet fighter jets to the Navy, including eight during the third quarter.