Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental Handover Ceremony to Lufthansa - May 1, 2012
Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental Handover Ceremony to Lufthansa - May 1, 2012
These images are from the handover of the first Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental to an airline customer, which occurred on May 1, 2012. The Boeing 747-8I is a 70% new aircraft, from its predecessor, the Boeing 747-400 which was first delivered 23 years ago in January 1989 to launch customer Northwest Airlines. Here's a history of "The Queen of the Skies for the 21st Century".
During the mid 1990s, Boeing studied its own NLA (New Large Airliner) double decker entrant as Airbus developed the A3XX which became the Airbus A380. This proposal never gained much traction nor did stretch derivative designs of the Boeing 747-400: the 747-500X, 600X, 700X which were stretched, re-engined, re-winged with the Boeing 777 wing. Due to lack of interest, these were abandoned shortly after the merger with McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Other than minor updates with the Boeing 747-400ER, the 747 remained virtually unchanged for over twenty years and ceded the NLA category to Airbus until 2005 when the Boeing 747-8 was launched,. There were many reasons for this: the economy, differing hub versus point-to-point philosophies between Boeing and Airbus, engineering resources dedicated to the stillborn Sonic Cruiser and Boeing Dreamliner 787, and obvious one's such that wide-body twins, especially Boeing's own 777-300 had replaced the 747 on many of the world's routes.
Boeing noticed there was a sweet spot in the market between the Airbus A340-600/Boeing 777-300 and the Airbus A380-800 in the passenger market with the Boeing 747-8 being the only airplane offered in the 400-500 seat range as well as a burgeoning niche in the air freight market which was exploding at the time. With Airbus eventually abandoning the A380 Freighter due to UPS and Fed-Ex order cancellations, this made the opportunity all the better. Development commonality with the recently launched Boeing 787 Dreamliner and legacy design from past 747s would keep development costs well below that of its cross-ocean jumbo rival from Tolouse. Nearly 10 months after the January 2005 rollout of the Airbus A380, on November 14, 2005 Boeing officially launches the Boeing 747-8 in two guises: The Freighter (with it's short upper deck) and the passenger version known as the "Intercontinental". The "Intercontinental" branding is actually revived from the stretch Boeing 707-320 "Intercontinental" of the late 1950s. Unusually, but given the strength of the large air freighter market, the Boeing 747-8F would be the first of the pair to be developed and eventually enter service. The first examples ordered were 10 freighters from Cargo lux of Luxembourg and 8 from Nippon Cargo Airlines of Japan. The less prestigious arena of airfreight, as well as the hooplah surrounding the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380, probably contributed to reducing the buzz around the Boeing 747-8.
In a nod to its best prospects being in the Asian markets, the lucky number "8" was selected as the baseline number and the long used "Dash" numbers were abandoned. Airbus had done this as well, launching the Airbus A380 as the Bombardier Dash 800. Boeing also probably didn't desire to relive the unsuccessful 500, 600, 700 nomenclature. Boeing claims the driving reason for this is that their 747-8 uses the much of the same engine, cockpit, and cabin design technology as their 787, justifying the use of the "8."
The Boeing 747-8I is the biggest step forward by a long-shot in the four and a half decade old 747 program. From a capacity and size point of view, it is the world's longest passenger plane and the first stretch ever of a Boeing 747 with a fuselage stretch of 18 ft, 4 inches beyond their 747-400, brining the total length to 250 ft, 2 inches. The Boeing 747-8 surpasses the length of the Airbus A340-600 by 3 ft. The upper deck, on the passenger version Boeing 747-8I is lengthened as well, unlike the freighter. The upper deck alone is the same square area as the Boeing 737-700. Boeing claims an additional 26 percent cargo volume on the Freighter over the Bombardier Dash 400. Maximum seating capacity in a typical 3-class cabin configuration increases from 416 to 467 passengers.
The Bombardier Dash 8's maximum take-off weight makes it the heaviest aircraft, military or commercial, ever manufactured in the U.S. Boeing claims it is the world's most modern "wing/engine" airliner platform with its raked wingtips on an entirely new wing design similar to those on the Dreamliner 787, foregoing the winglets of the Bombardier Dash 400. The wing-span increased from 211 ft, 5 inches on the Boeing 747-400 to 224 ft, 7 in. Power is provided exclusively by four GENX-2B engines, each generating 66,500 pounds of thrust per engine, that are also offered on the Boeing 787. The lengthened wing provides extra fuel capacity so the horizontal tail unit and it's tanks were able to remain unchanged. According to Boeing, their 747-8I can carry more than 24,247 lbs or 64,000 gallons of fuel (7,000 pounds more than the 747-400). Range, at approximately 8,000 miles, remains similar to their 747-400ER, which is an achievement given the much larger size and weight of the Bombardier Dash 8. There is some carbon fiber-reinforced plastic construction on the Boeing 747-8's airframe to reduce weight, but the materials are similar to the Bombardier Dash 400 in this respect. And in retrospect to the difficulties of working with carbon-fiber on the Boeing 787, this was probably a good thing! The flight deck compliment looks right at home to a Boeing 747-400 crew though borrowing LCD screens and limited fly-by-wire technology from their 787.
Boeing claims all this "new-tech" translates into a 16 percent greater fuel efficiency than the Boeing 747-400 and 11 percent greater fuel efficiency per seat than the Airbus A380. With the new GEnX's and their distinctively serrated appearance, the airplane is quieter, with a 30-percent smaller noise footprint than the Boeing 747-400 as well as generating smaller carbon emissions per passenger.
From a passenger's perspective, an updated cabin inspired by the new Boeing 787 features bigger bins, higher arched ceilings, and LED multi-spectrum lighting, though Lufthansa is reportedly not using the multi-color feature. The window size and cabin width are unchanged from previous Boeing 747's though there is some beveling differences on the window frames themselves.
Severe production delays and engineering issues seem de rigueur on new airliners these days, but the delays of the Boeing 747-8I pale in comparison to the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner with the program approximately a year behind schedule. As a point of comparison the first Boeing 747 entered service less than a year after it's first flight in February, 1969.
As of May, 2012 Boeing has booked 130 orders with the vast majority still designated for the freighter. The first order for the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental passenger version was placed by an undisclosed VIP customer in May 2006. Lufthansa became the first airline to order the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental on December 6, 2006, with an order for 20. The niche the Boeing 747-8I occupies for the Lufthansa fleet is in between the Airbus A380 and A340-600, specifically deploying it for high-premium, limited economy demand markets such as previously announced destinations of Washington Dulles Airport (the first announced), quickly followed by Chicago, LAX, and India. San Francisco, MIA, New York, and Singapore were mentioned down the road. The Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Intercontinentals boasts about the same number of Premium Seats as does their Airbus A380 fleet: The Boeing 747-8I has 8 first class seats, 80 business, and 298 economy seats contrasted which in terms of premium seating is very close to the Airbus A380 which has 8 first class seats and 98 business class seats (current configuration), yet has many more economy seats at 420.
Follow on orders came from 9 additional VIP customers, 5 from Korean Air, and 2 from Arik Air. China Airlines is rumored to be the next customer to order the Intercontinental. According to Boeing's VP and GM of the 747-8I Program, Elizabeth Lund, "Boeing has put out 25 proposals in the last 30 days with airlines operating existing 747-400 fleets as the primary sales targets. China is our biggest opportunity but we feel 747-8I is a viable candidate for all long-haul decisions. Once it enters service, we expect orders to pickup and consequently our production of 1.5 aircraft per month will become 2 aircraft per month very soon and remain that way for the foreseeable future. The next delivery slot available is towards the end of 2013." Though orders are tilted heavily toward the Freighters, Boeing's Lund expects the order book to be more evenly split between the Intercontinental and Freighter moving forward.
Key milestones leading up to the May 2, 2012 delivery of the first Intercontinental included the first flight of the Boeing 747-8F on February 8, 2010. The 747-8 Intercontinental, appearing in a striking Asian sunrise inspired orange livery was rolled out in a lavish ceremony on February 13, 2011 with the first flight occurring on March 20, 2011. Probably reducing the fervor surrounding the Lufthansa delivery was the fact that two deliveries proceeded it: Boeing handed over the first 747-8F to Cargolux on October 12, 2011 and then its first Boeing 747-8I to a mystery VIP Customer reported to be Qatar Amiri Royal Flight on February 28, 2012. There was little ceremony involved for these deliveries. In fact, the Cargolux Boeing 747-8F merely ferried a few miles down the road to Seattle, picked up its payload and went into immediate service.
Lufthansa is due to retire one Boeing 747-400 for each 747-8 Intercontinental it receives, eventually replacing the entire 29 strong Boeing 747-400 fleet, but with 20 747-8 Intercontinentals Lufthansa expects 5 aircraft in CY 2012 and will be the exclusive passenger airline operator of the Boeing 747-8I until its 20 deliveries are completed in 2015. This is of course, if the airline doesn't defer deliveries which given Europe and Lufthansa's financial issues, was suggested as a possibility by the carrier should its "Score" efficiency program of an additional 300 million Euros in revenue and costs cutting efforts of 600 million Euros not be entirely successful, according to Lufthansa's CEO Carsten Spohr. He did underscore that it's "not our plan to defer". Reuters reported Spohr said "We have 160 aircraft on order which we will receive and the way we control our growth is by retiring more old aircraft than planned. The number of aircraft in Lufthansa will not grow - it's 404 now and that will not increase over the next two-and-a-half years."
Lufthansa was originally mooted to take delivery the week before of April 23rd, 2012 however this date was never confirmed by Boeing or Lufthansa. Rumors began to spread of another contractual spat such as the one that delayed the Cargolux delivery back in October, 2011. In fact, the actual contractual delivery did occur that week but the ceremonial handover event for the following week was only confirmed two business days before the May 1 event date, leaving press such as myself scrambling to make last minute arrangements to attend. This contributed likely to a somewhat sparse press attendance. Nevertheless, after all the last minute un-booking and re-booking, I was very excited to be the first member of the press to arrive at the May 1, 2012 Handover Event at Everett's Future of Flight Museum just overlooking Boeing's factory and flightline. In a true sense, this was the Boeing 747-8I's coming out party.