Lufthansa's 7th 748-I at the Everett delivery center, er, centre: Boeing photo


For those in despair over the passing of the 20th century iconic subsonic giant, the Boeing 747, fear not.

It is going to be built and delivered for decades to come, according to the media release below. And not to mock, it would be sensationally good news if this comes true, although it would imply that Boeing is going to continue to update and stretch and refine the 747-8 line into a larger family than the 748-I or Intercontinental and the 748-F freighter.

EVERETT, Washington, May 29, 2013 — Boeing (NYSE: BA) celebrated the 50th delivery of a 747-8 today. Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the launch customer of the passenger version, took delivery of the milestone aircraft almost one year after the first revenue flight of the 747-8 Intercontinental. It is the airline’s seventh 747-8 and its 82nd 747.

“Lufthansa is very proud to have the next Boeing 747-8 entering our fleet – almost exactly one year after the launch flight from Frankfurt to Washington, DC,” said Nico Buchholz, Executive Vice President Fleet Management, Deutsche Lufthansa AG. “After one year of operation and now seven aircraft in the fleet, the aircraft has proven and delivered the excellent economical and ecological performance. We are very happy with the reliable operation of the 747-8.”

For more than a year-and-a-half, airlines have benefited from the 747-8’s excellent schedule reliability, utilisation, performance and operational advantages. Schedule reliability, an industry measure of departure from the gate within 15 minutes of scheduled time, is 98.8 percent for the 747-8 fleet.

“This delivery is not only an important milestone for the 747-8 program, but it sets the stage for our future,” said Eric Lindblad, vice president and general manager, 747 program. “We will be building and delivering the 747-8 for decades to come.”

This milestone delivery also represents the shared commitment to quality, innovation and affordability of Boeing and its global supply chain to produce the world’s most iconic, fuel-efficient large commercial aircraft. The 747-8 has about six million parts manufactured by more than 550 suppliers in almost 30 countries, including the United States, China, Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. In the US, more than 450 suppliers across almost 40 states contribute to the 747-8 program.

Boeing delivered the first 747-8 Intercontinental to Lufthansa in April 2012. The aircraft entered service on June 1, 2012 with a flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Washington, D.C. Cargolux Airlines took delivery of the first 747-8 Freighter in Oct. 2011. To date, 35 Freighters and 15 Intercontinentals, including eight of the Boeing Business Jet version, have been delivered.  

The photo, which has to be photo of the day, captures the lines of the 748 beautifully, and even makes a typical rainy day at Everett look good.

The 748-I is an example of how the influence of Emirates can affect the course of current airliner offerings, even when it decides not to order a particular type.  During 2006 (and with earlier hints in various quarters), Emirates was profoundly disturbed by delays in the A380 program and came into serious discussion with Boeing as to buying the 747-8 as a passenger jet as well as a freighter, where the model has achieved some success.

But Emirates wanted a longer range, lower capacity 747-8 than the model that was tailored to Lufthansa’s requirements for more seats and less range when it firmed up an initial commitment to the 747-8 Intercontinental in 2006, rending it less ‘intercontinental’ than the Dubai based giant had in mind.

That decision can be argued as having substantially changed the course of very large airliner development, leaving  the Airbus A380 as the only option for example, for high capacity non-stop both ways trans Pacific flights between east coast Australia and west coast USA.

However slowly the A380 has since sold, the lack of additional substantive sales for the 748-I has made the big Airbus look like its going off like hot cakes, which it isn’t.

Boeing’s resistance to the Emirates concept for a 747-8 is understandable in that such a jet would have competed much more closely with its highly successful 777-300ER and -200LR models, and even within Emirates, which is a huge customers for the current 777s, the gap between what they and a reduced sized longer range 748 would have done would have seemed small, anomalous and possibly one that reduced overall fleet efficiency.

Had Boeing won such an order for a 747-8I from Emirates there is also the question as to how Airbus might have responded.  If that response included moving swiftly to a longer range slightly smaller capacity A380 with a range comparable to that of the A345 or 777-200LR  the gates of uncertain consequences would have definitely swung open on the longer ranging, larger capacity airliner market  and a new matrix of possibilities would have arisen including the possible inhibition of Airbus plans for an A350-1000 and Boeing plans for a 777-X family.

As such, the Boeing 747-8I today may be a beautiful airliner with almost no customers, but one which when optimised to suit Lufthansa,  changed the course of large airliner history.

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