Boeing rolls out final 747 development

At a ceremony attended by about 10,000 guests, Boeing unveiled what is most likely the final chapter in the history of its 40-year-old 747 programme, writes Andrzej Jeziorski.

28th Feb 2011


On 13 February, Boeing displayed its largest product ever in public for the first time. The 747-8 Intercontinental is the passenger version of the latest – and probably final – development of its famous 747 ‘Jumbo Jet’, which revolutionised air travel after its initial entry into service in 1970.

The manufacturer unveiled the aircraft at its plant in Everett, Washington, in front of approximately 10,000 guests – including customers, employees, government officials, partners and suppliers. Speaking at the event, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Albaugh said the new aircraft incorporates technological advancements that make it extremely productive for customers.

“The new 747-8 Intercontinental features the latest in innovative technologies — applying many of the breakthroughs also found on the 787 ‘Dreamliner’,” said Albaugh. “We think our customers will value the low operating costs and passengers will enjoy the comfort of the striking new interior.”

Also at the event was Nico Buchholz, executive vice-president of group fleet management for launch customer Lufthansa.

“The 747-8 Intercontinental will be a great complement to our fleet, fitting nicely into the 400-seat category, improving our fleet's eco-efficiency even further," Buchholz said. “We are looking forward to welcoming this new aircraft to our fleet next year as it adds to our ongoing fleet modernization and environmental efforts.”

In total, Boeing has collected 33 orders for the 747-8I to date, from Lufthansa, Korean Air and unspecified VIP customers. First delivery is scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year.

Market niche

Smaller than Airbus’s double-deck, 555-seat A380, Boeing says the 747-8I uniquely fills a niche in the market.

“As the only airplane in the 400 to 500-seat market, the 747-8 Intercontinental will give operators an airplane perfectly suited for long, heavily travelled routes around the world,” said Pat Shanahan, Boeing’s vice-president and general manager of airplane programmes. “The new 747-8 Intercontinental will set a new standard in economic and environmental performance, while providing a world-class passenger experience.”

The manufacturer claims the aircraft will have “the lowest seat-mile cost of any large commercial jetliner, with 12 percent lower costs than its predecessor, the 747-400”. Compared with the -400, the 747-8I offers 16 percent better fuel economy, 16 percent less carbon emissions per passenger and a 30 percent smaller noise footprint. The company also claims an 11 percent advantage in fuel efficiency over Airbus’s A380.

The new aircraft’s cabin interior incorporates features from the 787 ‘Dreamliner’, including new curved, upswept architecture that gives passengers a greater feeling of space and comfort, while adding more room for personal belongings.

The aircraft unveiled at the roll-out ceremony is painted in a previously unseen ‘Sunrise’ livery of red-orange – a departure from the manufacturer’s usual blue colour scheme for development aircraft. Boeing says the livery will only appear on the first 747-8I and is intended to honour “many key Boeing customers whose cultures recognize these colours as symbols of prosperity and good luck”.

It is understood that the colour scheme is a reference to cultures in Asia, where the manufacturer expects to find the biggest market for the new aircraft.

The roll-out places Boeing in a position where it is now, for the first time ever, going to be pursuing certification for three new aircraft simultaneously: the 747-8I, the 747-8F freighter version and the 787. The crunch has come about because of delays to all three development programmes, but the manufacturer says it is confident that it can meet its current certification schedules.

The 747-8I flight-test programme will start in late March and take about 600 hours using two development aircraft. Completion is expected in the fourth quarter, followed by certification at the end of the year. At the same time, Boeing is targeting mid-year certification for the 747-8F and the completion of the 787 flight-test programme at the end of the year.

Meeting requirements

The Boeing 747-8I and its 747-8F stablemate “meet airline requirements for a passenger
airplane that serves the 400- to 500-seat market between the 555-seat Airbus A380 and
the 365-seat Boeing 777-300ER (extended range) airplanes, and for a freighter that
continues the leadership of the 747 Freighter family in the world cargo market”, Boeing says.

The manufacturer launched the programme on 14 November 2005, with firm orders for 18 freighter versions: ten from Cargolux of Luxembourg and eight from Japan’s Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA) of Japan. The combined value of the orders was approximately US$5 billion at list prices.

Boeing had studied the feasibility of a new 747 for years, working with operators to establish their requirements for a larger 747 to continue the profitability of current fleets. The company says that the final designation of the new variant – 747-8 – was chosen to show the technological connection between the larger 747 and the all-new 787.

Boeing says the 747-8 Intercontinental is more than 10 percent lighter per seat than the Airbus A380 and consumes 11 percent less fuel per passenger.

“That translates into a trip-cost reduction of 21 percent and a seat-mile cost reduction of more than 6 percent compared to the A380,” the US manufacturer says.

While the A380, the world’s largest jetliner, requires airports to upgrade their facilities to accommodate it, Boeing says the 747-8 “should be able to operate safely at any airport that currently has 747-400 service”. The aircraft “will build on the current 747’s capability to fly into most airports worldwide, using the same pilot type ratings, services and most ground support equipment”.

The 747-8I offers a range of 8,000 nautical miles (14,815 km), capable of flying between nearly any major city-pair in the world, Boeing says. The Intercontinental has 51 additional seats than its predecessor, accommodating as many as 467 passengers in a typical three-class configuration, while also offering 26 percent more cargo volume.

The Freighter variant offers a range of 4,390 nautical miles and 16 percent more cargo volume than the 747-400F, allowing it to hold seven additional standard freight pallets with the same nose-door loading capability as its predecessor.

‘No competitors’

“Compared one-on-one, the 747-8 Freighter has no competitors,” Boeing claims.

With a maximum structural payload capacity of 140 tonnes, the 747-8F offers 16 percent more revenue cargo volume than the 747-400F. The additional 120 cubic metres of volume means the aircraft can accommodate four additional pallets on the main deck and three more in the lower hold.

The freighter enables operators to choose between carrying up to 20 tonnes of additional revenue payload, or flying up to 2,593km farther in markets where cargo density requirements are lower. The aircraft offers almost equivalent trip costs to its -400F predecessor, along with 16 percent lower ton-mile costs.

“In fact, the 747-8 Freighter will enjoy the lowest ton-mile costs of any freighter,” Boeing says.

Yet for all their promised advantages, sales to date of both versions of the 747-8 have been less than stellar. In addition to the 33 orders booked to date for the passenger 747-8I version, Boeing has collected 74 orders for the freighter to date, with a perceived reluctance from potential customers to commit to the programme until its performance and delivery schedule have been proven. The global economic downturn added to the problems, making it that much harder to persuade customers to place new aircraft orders.

Still, the manufacturer remains optimistic, seeing particular potential in the Middle East and Asia markets. Furthermore, Turkish Airlines said in October that it was evaluating the aircraft.

Boeing has always been more cautious in its estimates of demand for the largest jetliner models than A380 maker Airbus. The US aircraft maker predicts a market between 2010 and 2029 for about 720 large aircraft, of which some 500 will be passenger jetliners. Asia will account for about 43 percent of demand, while the Middle East will contribute 23 percent.

Toulouse, France-based rival Airbus is more gung-ho, predicting a need for 1,740 very-large aircraft over the same period, with passenger models accounting for 1,300 of these. With its latest confirmed order from Japan’s Skymark Airlines for four A380s, the European manufacturer has now booked 244 firm orders for the world’s largest jetliner from 19 customers. To date, 43 have been delivered.

 

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