Lufthansa enjoyed a smooth debut of the Boeing 747-8I - and its new business class - on 1 June between Frankfurt and Washington DC and is now looking forward to receiving the remaining four aircraft it has slated for delivery this year to enable it to expand the stretched jumbo's network.
The inaugural flight (LH416) was operated by D-ABYA ("Brandenburg") - the first of 20 747-8Is that Lufthansa has on order. It departed Frankfurt on schedule with 313 passengers and 20 crew on board. The 747 took off at a weight of 377.6t (831,700lb) and a payload of 50t. On the flightdeck were three senior Lufthansa 747 captains including the airline's 747 technical pilot Capt Elmar Boje along with Capt Carsten Asmus and Capt Christian Krauss.
Also on board the celebratory flight was Boeing's 747 programme chief Elizabeth Lund and Lufthansa group chief executive Christoph Franz. During an interview with Flightglobal (below), Lund expressed her confidence in securing additional 747-8I orders during 2012.
After initially cruising at Mach 0.85 - and overtaking an Air Canada 777-300ER that had departed Frankfurt just ahead of the 747 - the crew then slowed slightly to M0.843 to ensure the flight didn't arrive early for the celebrations in Washington. Midway through the flight, while cruising at 36,000ft, Capt Boje reported a combined fuel flow of 9.6t/h (at M0.843) from the four General Electric GEnx engines, with a ground speed of 479kt (886km/h) and a 20kt headwind.
The 747-8 touched down at Washington Dulles at a weight of around 296t, meaning it had burnt around 80t of fuel during the 7h 58min flight. Capt Boje says that for initial flights the airline is taking a very conservative approach to reserve fuel quantities for the new variant.
The 362-seat 747-8I provides Lufthansa with a significant increase in premium seat capacity over the 747-400s that it is slated to replace. The major difference is the size of the business class cabin, which rises from (typically) 66 seats in the -400 to 92. The cabin is now split between the main deck (60 seats) and upper deck (32 seats) and debuts Lufthansa's new lie-flat business class seat product (below).
In contrast, Lufthansa's 30-strong 747-400 fleet is configured with an all-first-class upper deck (eight seats) and the business cabin in the nose and forward maindeck. The 747-8's first-class cabin retains the same capacity but is now located to the nose and features some product improvements (below).
As the airline introduces an additional four 747-8s this year it will expand the network from Frankfurt to include Chicago, Los Angeles, New Delhi and Bengaluru. The first five aircraft do not have on-board internet capability, but this will be addressed from the sixth aircraft onwards (due in 2013) which will be equipped with a KU-band antenna.
However the airline will have to wait for its 11th aircraft - scheduled in 2014 - before it receives a 747-8 with performance capabilities closer to Boeing's original brochure promises. This second batch of 747s will incorporate a block change of improvements including an engine upgrade, weight-savings and upgraded flight management computer capability.