Company says region's carriers account for 70pc of 'overwhelming' order level Asian airlines may elevate Boeing back to its position as the world's No1 commercial aircraft manufacturer this year, with regional carriers accounting for 70 per cent of present orders for its new Dreamliner aircraft, the company said yesterday. In the year since Boeing's sales team took the B787 to the market, it has received 237 firm orders and commitments - worth US$28.44 billion at list prices - and another 429 'active proposals', mostly from Asia. Michel Bair, vice-president of the B787 programme, said orders had 'clearly exceeded expectations' for the aircraft, which will not make its first commercial flight until mid-2008. 'We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the market response,' Mr Bair said during a conference call yesterday. 'We are starting to struggle with the availability of [delivery] positions. We are fully booked for 2008 and 2009; we have a couple of slots left in 2010, and 2011 and 2012 are filling quickly.' All the sales activity prompted Boeing's head of commercial aircraft sales, Scott Carson, to tell Reuters earlier this month: 'We'll beat them [Airbus] this year.' The list price for the middle of three versions of the new aircraft - the B787-800 - is US$120 million per unit. But analysts say they are probably moving for closer to US$80 million, putting the value of the firm orders at closer to US$19 billion. Manufacturers routinely offer discounts to kick-start a new product's sales momentum, a fact acknowledged by Mr Bair yesterday. 'We'd love to get catalogue prices for our aircraft, but that's not the way it works nowadays,' he said. China, which Mr Bair said played a role in the B787's design capabilities, has been responsible for 60 of the firm orders and commitments to date. Japan's All Nippon Airways was the launch customer with 50 units of the shorter range 787-300 version, while on Tuesday Air India brought South Asia into the equation with an order for 20 Dreamliners, valued at US$2.4 billion at list prices. 'Geographically, about 70 per cent of orders are coming from the Asia theatre,' Mr Bair said. 'The Asian carriers are doing so well in such a robust market that the orders are skewed that way.' The 17 member carriers of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines yesterday said the number of international passengers they carried had continued to expand in the first quarter, up an aggregate 7 per cent on last year's strong performance. Boeing designed the B787 as a replacement for its ageing B767. According to Mr Bair, it can fly 2,500 nautical miles further than its predecessor, burns 20 per cent less fuel and carries 50 per cent more cargo. The 'vast majority' of the orders so far have been for the B787-800 version, which can carry 217 passengers up to 15,700km. A commitment from Cathay Pacific has eluded Boeing. 'We are talking to them,' said Mr Bair. 'They are in a unique position because of the flows in and out of Hong Kong, which tends to have them look at larger rather than smaller aircraft. But we are talking to them.' Boeing said last night its first-quarter earnings fell 14 per cent to US$535 million.