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747-8 Intercontinental ready for primetime

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"Today it looks ordinary, but at that time there were no airplanes even close to it in size. They opened up the hangar doors and it was just unbelievable. People reacted as if they were rolling out the Empire State Building."

The 747 lost its crown as the world's largest airliner when the 525-seat Airbus (EAD.PA) A380 was unveiled in 2005. But at 19 feet longer than its predecessors, this one will be the longest.

It is the first time the 747 fuselage has been stretched to make the biggest passenger jet marketed by a U.S. manufacturer.

The 747-8 -- listed at $317.5 million -- also boasts new wings, a new tail, state-of-the-art engines and a new cockpit, making it, according to specialist magazine Flight International, "unrecognizable from that first jumbo jetliner."

SLOW SALES

However, big is not yet beautiful for the Boeing order book.

Despite its hopes of securing a new lease of life for the 747 family, Boeing has so far managed to win 33 orders for the 747-8 passenger version including just two airlines -- Germany's Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) and Korean Air Lines (003490.KS).

The first delivery will be to an unnamed VIP customer instead of an airline late this year, but Boeing has said it is confident of winning new orders as the plane enters service.

Pat Shanahan, Boeing's general manager of airplane programs, said he expects sales to pick up this year and was encouraged by stronger sales of the freighter version of the aircraft, speaking to reporters after the unveiling.

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