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Move over, 747: United wants a bigger plane

Jumbo would not be an apt description for the new 650-passenger, four-engine jetliner that United Airlines has asked Boeing Co. to explore building. Gargantuan might do, however. The proposed long-range aircraft _ dubbed the N650 _ would be 50 percent larger than the biggest commercial jetliner, Boeing's 747, which the Seattle-based aircraft maker introduced two decades ago.

The latest model _ the $150-million Boeing 747-400, which rolled out in 1988 _ can haul 412 passengers 8,000 miles in first-class, business-class and coach-class configuration.

"As we look at the market, we think that there is a need for a bigger airplane," said Stephen Wolf, chairman of United parent UAL Corp., during a press briefing in Paris, where he was discussing the airline's business plans.

A wider-bodied jet such as the N650 would help airlines meet anticipated growth in international traffic. Pacific Rim traffic is projected to grow at an 11 percent annual rate through 1995, according to San Francisco airport director Lou Turpen.

Within a decade, about 40 percent of the world's passenger traffic will be carried in the Pacific.

In addition to meeting demand, a huge new jetliner could help carriers cope with crowded gates and schedules, especially in the heavily congested airports of the Far East.

In Seattle, Boeing Commercial Airplane Group spokesman Tom Cole said Boeing has talked about the possibility of larger airplanes for some time, including a larger 747 or an entirely new plane.

Cole said no decision has been made to develop either plane. But he noted that United "is our largest customer, and obviously when they speak, we listen."

United would like to introduce the new jet in 1998. But Boeing is flooded with a $105-billion backlog of orders to produce 1,800 of its current models and another planned wide-body, the 777.

Boeing's chief competitors, Airbus Industrie and McDonnell Douglas Corp., both are considering building jumbo jets, a market Boeing has to itself with the 747.

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.