Lufthansa will use its new Boeing 747-8Is to tackle long-haul markets where demand is weak for economy class seats. This is because the stretched jumbo slots into the German carrier's fleet beneath the Airbus A380, offering around 160 fewer economy seats but a comparable level of premium capacity.
The airline will put its newly delivered 747-8I into service on 1 June between Frankfurt and Washington Dulles, replacing a 747-400 on the route. Other 747-400 routes due to be upgraded to the 362-seater this year are Frankfurt to Chicago and Los Angeles in the USA and New Delhi and Bangalore in India.
"We believe the 747-8 is a nice fit between the Airbus A340-600 and the A380," says Carsten Spohr, chief executive of Lufthansa's airline division speaking at the aircraft's roll-in ceremony on 2 May.
"The 747-8 and the A380 both offer 100 premium seats. But we have  more economy seats on the A380," he adds. "So we use the 747-8 into premium markets where the economy demand is somewhat limited - for example Washington DC and Chicago."
Spohr says that the A380 is deployed to destinations where there is strong premium demand and a larger economy-class market: "San Francisco is a good example, as well as Singapore, Miami or New York."
Spohr cites Lufthansa's strong premium market as the key to it being one of a handful of airlines that have ordered both the A380 and the 747-8I. "The big premium share we have means it made sense for us to decide to operate both before others did," he says.
Lufthansa's 747-8Is are the first to feature the airline's new lie-flat business class seat, which is expected to eventually be rolled out across the entire long-haul fleet. This move may prompt the airline to offer premium economy seating, which Spohr says was previously ruled out due to concerns that it could cannibalise its business-class market. "We had been afraid that we'd lose people from business class into premium economy. Now with the lie-flat business class that risk is less so we're looking at it again," he says. "We'll need to decide that in the next nine months."