Cathay waiting for 747-8I service entry before jumbo decision

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Having taken delivery of its first Boeing 747-8 freighter, Cathay Pacific is keeping the door open to the passenger variant which it will evaluate next year for a potential high-capacity aircraft order.

Boeing and Airbus have viewed Cathay as a 747-8 or A380 customer respectively. Cathay chief executive John Slosar, speaking at the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines presidents' assembly in Seoul, said each had been discussing the types with the Hong Kong carrier. Unlike Lufthansa and Korean Air, Cathay will not take both.

The company has said it would make a "substantial order" of 10-15 aircraft, if it goes ahead, using them - and its Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A350s - to replace 21 747-400s, 11 A340-300s and some older A330s.

Slosar said Cathay had not studied the passenger variant closely recently. "We last looked at what the 747-8I can do on paper two and a bit years ago," he said.

"Now that we will have the aircraft flying next year, we will have real hard data and a clearer idea of what it can offer."

However, he also said a stretched version of the A380 would be ideal, given that it would be able to carry more cargo - a key component of Cathay's business.

"What we would really like to do is understand from Airbus where the aircraft and its development are heading," said Slosar.

Atlas Air has also taken its first 747-8F, for British Airways, and has not ruled out exercising options despite cancelling orders for three of its 12 and remaining in talks with Boeing over delay compensation.

Chief financial officer Spencer Schwartz said the cancelled 747-8Fs were "lesser-performing".

"That's why, between the delays and performance considerations, we cancelled those aircraft," he said. "The aircraft that we are taking are later produced, better performing aircraft," added Schwartz.

Atlas will take two more this year, four in 2012, and two in 2013. The carrier has options for 14 and said it will "have time, in terms of our horizon, if we want to buy more -8s".

"The aircraft is up, it's flying, and it's going to provide a very meaningful stair-step performance improvement," said Schwartz.

Atlas chief William Flynn added: "We took delivery of the aircraft without [compensation] discussions being completed, because we needed to put the aircraft to work for British Airways.

"We continue with discussions with Boeing to address the contractual differences between us."

Lessor Dubai Aerospace Enterprise has converted five of 15 747-8Fs to 777Fs, Boeing figures have revealed, putting the 747-8 family into net negative orders for 2011.

Additional reporting by Ghim-Lay Yeo