Boeing aims to jumpstart 747-8 sales in Middle East and Asia

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Boeing is keen to reignite flagging sales of its 747-8, and sees Asia and the Middle East as key target markets.

"We really do believe that this airplane's going to sell, and it's going to sell well. We think this airplane will sell this year," says deputy 747-8 programme manager Elizabeth Lund.

Boeing has received 107 orders for the 747-8, including 74 freighters and 33 of the passenger Intercontinental, which was revealed to the public yesterday (13 Feb).

"People have been hesitant to make commitments," says airplane programmes vice-president and 747-8 general manager Pat Shanahan, adding that demand was suppressed by the global economic slowdown and questions about the delayed aircraft.

Shanahan says there are "many" sales campaigns ongoing and "once there's certainty around the performance of the airplane, the availability of the airplane, we think we'll see an uptick".

Boeing's next campaign appears to be Turkish Airlines, which said in October it was "evaluating" proposals for the 747-8I and the Airbus A380.

Shanahan offered an unsolicited reference to the 747-8I as being "ideally suited" for the Turkish market as a transit point in and out of Europe.

"Nothing would be better than putting airplanes in the Middle East," he says.

The 747-8I was unveiled with a 'Sunrise' livery, a direct appeal to carriers in Asia and the Middle East, where red and orange represent prosperity and good fortune.

The 747-8 programme remains in a loss-making position for Boeing. The company is facing tough competition from the larger A380, forcing it to  use factory productivity improvements more aggressively to bolster the financial standing of the programme, says Shanahan.

"The market will have a lot of pressure, the A380 will price to sell," he says, adding that the company's advantage on the 747-8 freighter does not exist on the passenger model.

Shanahan says Boeing has seen more traction for the freighter variant, which will enter service mid-year with Cargolux Airlines.

"The world from a growth standpoint has recovered," says Shanahan. "There was a thought that the growth was just to replenish inventories, but the freighter side of this thing keeps going and going."

Interest has come from both airline cargo operations as well as large logistics companies, he says.

Boeing's market analysis for its largest aircraft remains conservative in comparison to its European competitor. The US airframer sees 720 large aircraft delivered between 2010 and 2029. Of those 720, around 500 will account for large passenger aircraft. Boeing forecasts 43% of those 720 aircraft delivered to Asia, China and Southeast Asia, with the Middle East representing a further 23%.

Airbus, on the other hand, envisages a market for 1,740 very large aircraft, of which 1,300 will be passenger aircraft delivered over the same 20-year period. Airbus has received 240 firm orders for the A380 to date.

In addition to airline launch customer Lufthansa, the only airline to order the 747-8I is Korean Air, which placed an order for five of the type in December 2009. Lufthansa will see its first 747-8I delivered in early 2012.