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Boeing Uses Web to Lift Interest in New Plane

Boeing Co. is taking to the Internet for the christening of its new 7E7 airliner.

Users of AOL Time Warner Inc.'s America Online and Time for Kids magazine properties are being asked to vote and participate in the development of the new Boeing aircraft, which airlines can order in 2004 for delivery four years later.

“Many times today when people fly, they don't care what airplane they fly,” Rob Pollack, vice president of branding for Boeing Commercial Airplanes Marketing in Seattle, said yesterday. “And what we are trying to do is create some excitement in this new airplane that we are now designing, so over time people will once again ask, 'Is this a Boeing airplane?'”

The basic shape of large commercial jets largely has been unchanged since the Boeing 707 was introduced five decades ago. The 7E7 is the first departure from that: It has a distinctive nose shape, new wing tip concepts and a sculpted vertical tail structure.

While airplane designs evolve from concept to creation, the 7E7 is being developed as a 200- to 250-seat aircraft. It will fly 7,000 to 8,000 nautical miles at speeds akin to the fastest twin-aisle commercial aircraft, the Boeing 777 and 747.

Boeing hopes to sell up to 3,000 units in the next 20 years, one of the aerospace giant's biggest gambles against European archrival Airbus Industrie.

As such, the aircraft will be marketed for its passenger comfort and eco-friendliness. But Boeing needs to know what is in the consumer's mind, hence the strategic alliance with AOL Time Warner.

Members who subscribe to the America Online Internet access service will have exclusive access to a 360-degree view of the 7E7 before it is made available next month to general visitors at AOL.com. This is part of AOL's celebration of “100 Years of Flight” retrospective photo gallery on its site.

More importantly, people can vote on possible names from four suggested for the plane: Stratoclimber, Global Cruiser, Dreamliner or eLiner. The “Name Your Plane” tab is placed on the AOL welcome screen. Voters enter the “Boeing” keyword on AOL or visit newairplane.com or timeforkids.com.

“What better form of media would there be than the Internet with such a large audience where you could also get a rapid response?” asks Andy Blacker, director of creative development at America Online. The timeforkids.com site is in conjunction with an effort from Time for Kids magazine to involve children in this effort.

A special issue titled “A New Dream Takes Wing” on the history of flight was distributed nationwide in classrooms yesterday to 2 million children in grades four to six. This issue is intended as a collectible for an age group that typically loves airplanes.

In addition to voting, AOL members and non-members in the United States, Britain, Japan, China, France and Germany also can participate in a sweepstakes through June 3. Visitors are asked to choose their age bracket, enter an e-mail address, opt in to join the “World Design Team” and suggest a friend.

The sweepstakes' top prize is a trip for two to Boeing's Seattle factory to fly the 737-700 flight simulator there. Thirty first-prize winners get a Boeing flight instrument pack from BoeingStore.com.

As part of Boeing's “World Design Team,” sweepstakes enrollees will be privy to sneak previews of the interior and exterior of the aircraft as it evolves. They will participate in surveys as well.

As of yesterday, voters in all countries but France voted heavily for the “Global Cruiser” name. French voters preferred “Dreamliner.”

“In terms of the airplane name that wins, that is the name we'll use,” Pollack said. “We'll then use any information that we get in the future and will give it absolute consideration within the overall requirements of the program.”

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