How reliable so far is the 747-8?

747-8F-SunriseDraft.jpgPhoto courtesy of Boeing

Six months after entry-into-service of the 747-8 Freighter, we now have the first hard indications of the new type’s technical dispatch reliability, a rating that measures the number of flights canceled because of a technical problem with the aircraft. It does not count cancellations due to weather or staffing delays.

With six aircraft delivered to four 14 aircraft delivered to five operators [ED: er, slight miscount!] since 12 October, how is the 747-8F performing?

Answer: Not bad. If Boeing’s numbers match those of its customers, the 747-8F is doing fine. Its performance is roughly equivalent to the Airbus A380 at the same stage in early 2008, slightly below the 777′s benchmark performance in late 1995 and above the company’s own forecasts. For a new type with only 30% parts commonality with its predecessor, the 747-400, that’s doing okay.

How do we know this? Boeing does not reveal specific technical dispatch reliability statistics for its aircraft. But a company official, 747-8 support and services director Leslie Lauer, told us the freighter is tracking “slightly below” the 777′s benchmark one-year performance. A quick check of the Flightglobal archive in 1996 revealed the number was 97.9%, which Boeing confirmed is the statistic to which Lauer was referring.

Although Boeing is justifiably proud of the 777′s performance, it was actually a disappointment to launch customer United Airlines in 1995. United expected the 777 to enter service with 98.5% technical dispatch reliability after a year. After seeing reliability fluctuate as low as 96.5% and averaging 97.9%, United later acknowledged it had been a little too optimistic.

Twelve years later, Airbus repeated the same experience with the A380. The airframer actually guaranteed a 98.5% technical dispatch reliability in the first year to launch customer Singapore Airlines. After one year, SIA reported that reliability actually averaged between 97%-98%. Another customer, Emirates, reported a slightly lower dispatch reliability rating.  Each airline can measure technical dispatch reliability slightly differently, so there could be small variances in the data.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa is poised to receive the first passenger variant 747-8 Intercontinental very soon, perhaps even next week. The German carrier is no stranger to fleet introductions, having received its first A380 in 2010. By that time, the A380 had three years to mature in service with other operators. The 747-8I has only been flying for six months, but Lufthansa isn’t cutting Boeing any slack.

“When we introducedthe [Airbus] A380 in June 2010 we had for the first months 100% technicaldispatch reliability,” Lufthansa says. “So we are working very close withBoeing to make sure the 747-8 performance is matching the A380 performance.”