Lufthansa is preparing for the introduction of the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental into its fleet with rehearsals of ground operations at its Frankfurt base using a manufacturer-owned flight test aircraft which will be delivered to the carrier next year.
The aircraft (MSN RC021, registration N-6067U) arrived in Frankfurt from Seattle on 6 December for a three-day visit to test operational equipment and processes at the airport terminal and in maintenance hangars.
It has so far been used by Boeing as one of three flight test aircraft, focussing on tests of cabin systems such as air conditioning, galleys and lighting equipment.
The 747-8 is already painted in Lufthansa's basic colour scheme with a white fuselage, grey belly and blue vertical stabiliser - albeit without the airline's markings and crane on the tail fin - and should become its fifth of the new type (registration D-ABYE), when it is delivered in August, said Dean Raineri, director new aircraft readiness at Lufthansa Technik (LHT).
The first aircraft (MSN 1443) is due to be delivered in the first quarter of 2012, he said, with the carrier taking five aircraft per year until 2015.
LHT has so far trained 25 technicians for line maintenance work up to A-checks on the 747-8. This group should be sufficient to service the initial five aircraft during the first year, while the rest of the approximately 250-strong 747-400 technical support team will be qualified for the new type, said Frank Hoelterhoof, project manager, service readiness 747-8I at LHT.
LHT plans to maintain the 747-8I in its hangar 5 at Frankfurt, where the 747-400 fleet is currently serviced. Due to the new variant's larger wingspan of 68.5m (225ft), against 64.4m on the -400, it will only be possible to accommodate four aircraft, instead of six 747-400s, in the building.
Additional space is available in hangar 7, which was built for the A380 on the southern side of the airport. If required, this could be doubled in size within three years, although the introduction of the 747-8 has not triggered any concrete schedule for the planned expansion, said Raineri.
LHT is currently certificated to provide line maintenance for the new type. Base maintenance approval is due to follow when all necessary tooling has been delivered and is expected to be granted by the end of 2012.
Whether a traditional letter check or more flexible phased maintenance regime will be used to service the 747-8 has not yet been decided. Raineri said that both options are currently being evaluated.
The first C-check will be due after 2 service years.
Establishing overhaul capability for the General Electric GEnx-2B67 engine is targeted "in the long-term", according Raineri. Unscheduled engine maintenance will meanwhile be covered by the manufacturer.
A spare engine will be delivered in January. This should be sufficient to cover the operation for the first five aircraft, said Raineri. But if necessary, the company could fall back on another spare engine held by 747-8 Freighter operator Cargolux in Luxembourg, he added.
LHT has stockpiled approximately 45,000 parts for the 747-8.