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Continental Airlines

shares will be in focus Thursday after the carrier announced an agreement for delivery of the planemaker's new 7E7 jetliner.

Houston-based Continental is the first major U.S. carrier to sign on for the new fuel-efficient plane, which is also known as the Dreamliner. The company's initial 7E7 order is for 10 aircraft, with the first plane to be delivered in 2009. The order is worth about $1.3 billion on the basis on list prices.

"The 7E7 will be an important part of our international growth strategy," Continental said in a statement.

Continental, however, stressed that the agreement -- which includes other plane models -- is "subject to several conditions," including board approval.

Boeing and Continental said they expect to formally complete the agreement in early 2005.

"Continental is a bellwether addition to the 7E7 launch team," Boeing said, emphasizing the importance of bringing on a top U.S. carrier, after a somewhat disappointing start to the order process for the high-profile project.

The jetmaker said the agreement increases to 122 the number of customer-announced 7E7 orders since the program's launch in April 2004. Firm contracts are in place for 56.

Boeing fell $1, or 1.9%, to $52.25 in premarket trading. Continental closed at $13.45 yesterday.