Boeing prepares to begin 747-8 final assembly

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Assembly is being completed of the final 747-400F at Everett, as the line prepares to switch to the new -8 variant

PRODUCTION JON OSTROWER everett

Everett gears up for 747-8 assembly

First three forward fuselages in various stages of integration at Boeing plant, as last -400F comes off the line

Boeing is gearing up to start final assembly of the first 747-8 in Everett. The initial aircraft is to be delivered to launch customer Cargolux in the second half of 2010.

The airframer says it has three forward fuselages in various stages of integration, and the forward section 41 of the first 747-8 Freighter is furthest along as the aircraft approaches the start of the final assembly process.

The 747 assembly line at Everett has been home to mostly 787s recently, with the final 747-400F being completed in the slant position closest to the doors. Further into the factory, the fatigue test 787 and third flight-test Dreamliner airframe are being competed.

While these aircraft are occupying the line, section 41 for the first 747-8F due for Luxembourg's Cargolux is being held two bays down. Boeing also has parts for four sets of wings as work in progress, with the port wing of the first aircraft now being sealed and tested as the starboard wing is being completed.

Three 747-8Fs will support the stretched, General Electric GEnx-powered aircraft's flight-test programme, which is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter. Two 747-8Is will be used to support the certification effort for the passenger version.

Last month Boeing reached the 25% design release milestone for the 747-8I and the airframer says it expects to be at 90% design release by the end of the year.

Last month the 747-8I programme suffered a further delay that Boeing blamed on softening cargo demand and the subsequent postponement of a planned production ramp-up of the freighter version, which paces the passenger version.

This second delay pushed the aircraft's first delivery, which will be to a Middle Eastern VIP customer, back by three to six months, into the fourth quarter of 2011. German flag carrier Lufthansa is the only airline customer for the passenger model.