UPS, the world's largest shipping carrier, said today it has ordered eight new freighters from Boeing to support its international growth.

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UPS, the world’s largest shipping carrier, said today it has ordered eight new freighters from Boeing to support its international growth.

The order for Boeing’s 747-400 freighters is worth up to $1.9 billion at list prices, but airlines normally receive significant discounts on large deals. The airplanes are scheduled to be delivered in 2007 and 2008.

The deal extends the life of Boeing’s 747 production line until at least 2008.

Prior to today’s announcement, Boeing had orders for 26 747s waiting to be built. The UPS deal pushes that number to 34. Boeing is delivering 747s to customers at a rate of one per month, so the current backlog represents nearly three years of production.

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Today’s news demonstrates that the 747-400 freighter remains popular with cargo airlines, despite the anticipated 2006 entry into service of the Airbus A380 superjumbo.

Sales of passenger versions of the 747 remain moribund, however. China Airlines of Taiwan placed the most recent order for a passenger 747 on November 28, 2002, when it placed an order for four of the widebody jets.

For the past three years Boeing has discussed re-energizing the 747 product line by launching the 747 Advanced, an updated version of the nearly 40-year-old widebody jet. The 747 Advanced would take advantage of new engines and lightweight composite materials being developed for the 787 Dreamliner to improve fuel efficiency. It would also have room for 30 additional seats and 15 more tons of cargo than today’s 747-400, according to Boeing.

Cargolux, a freight airline based in Luxembourg, said last month it is planning detailed talks with Boeing to buy up to 10 747 Advanced freighters to update its current fleet of 13 747s. Deliveries would begin in 2009, CargoLux said.

Boeing’s board of directors has not yet authorized the development of the 747 Advanced. Presumably the company is waiting to finalize a launch order from Cargolux or another airline.

General Electric will provide engines for the new aircraft.

Atlanta-based UPS said the new freighters will help it increase capacity on routes connecting Asia, Europe and North America.

UPS already has 20 Boeing MD-11 freighters that it uses on international routes. It said the new 747-400 aircraft can handle a larger payload than the MD-11 and will be used as international volume grows.

The Boeing 747-400 freighter has the capacity to carry a structural payload of 250,000 pounds with a range of 4,400 nautical miles.