This first appeared as a Comment in the 11 February issue of Flight International
Is the end nigh for Boeing’s queen of the skies? When Seattle launched the 747-8 in 2006 it did not see it changing the industry the way the original jumbo jet revolutionised long-haul travel in the 1970s.
Part of Boeing’s case against the Airbus A380 was that increasing fragmentation of long-haul routes made an all-new ultra large transport unviable.
However, the US manufacturer did think there was enough of a market for it to be an A380 spoiler, making prospects even more difficult for its European rival.
But while sales of the A380 have been sluggish, the 747-8’s have been slower. A total of 47 747-8 Freighters had been delivered by the end of 2013, and only 17 747-8Is. Customers have tended to stick with the fuel-efficient 777 twinjet, and the 400-seat 777-9X eats away further the 747-8’s higher capacity advantage.
A recovering cargo market could be the saviour of the 45-year-old programme. However, even there, the argument for the revamped jumbo takes a battering, with the generous belly of the 777-300ER allowing airlines to run frequent, just-in-time freight services.
Strangely perhaps, of the best hopes for the 747-8I is as the ultimate business jet. The VIP variant has nine orders – plenty of room for those Rolls-Royces on these three decks. And it is hard seeing the US Air Force looking beyond the iconic jumbo when it comes to replacing Air Force One later this decade.