Vicious battle envisaged as widebody goes head-to-head with A380 for major deals

Boeing has reached the 1,500 order milestone for the 747 programme amid rising optimism from the company that it can reach the 100-order mark for the recently launched 747-8 variant within months. Meanwhile, International Lease Finance chairman and chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy says a battle royal is brewing between the new Boeing giant and the Airbus A380 as the two sides compete for some key customers.

The surge towards the 1,500 sales mark is largely due to the success of the 747-8, which reached the 87 order tally in March with nine additional orders from Cargolux and an unidentified customer. "Last year was our best for orders since 1990, so it's been 15 to 16 years since we've seen this sort of order volume," says Randy Tinseth, Boeing vice-president for 747 customers.

Some 120 new 747s (-400ER/ERFs and -8/8Fs) have now been ordered "in the last two years", he adds. Of the -8 total, 24 are non-cargo versions, with four being ordered as Boeing Business Jets and the balance being the Intercontinental passenger version launched by Lufthansa late last year.

Udvar-Hazy told last week's Speednews supplier conference in Los Angeles that "Lufthansa has repositioned the 747-8 as a viable contender". He said that the forthcoming months will see "the real competition between the 747-8 and A380 passenger versions", with near-term prospects including British Airways, Cathay Pacific "and potentially Northwest and United Airlines".

ILFC has 10 A380s on order - but has deferred the order to 2013 and beyond - and Udvar-Hazy hints that the lessor is becoming increasingly interested in the 747-8 as part of a new batch of business with Boeing. "We are currently the largest single Airbus customer and we're second at Boeing. Hopefully in the near future we'll get back into the number one position with Boeing. We're having discussions with them about additional commitments."

Tinseth says a firm configuration of the 747-8 passenger model is on track for "late summer" and that it is an objective "to increase the Inter- continental orderbook this year".

A potential boost to future passenger sales activity is the onset of the 747-400 replacement market, the oldest of which is 19 years old. However, Boeing is not anticipating a one-for-one replacement rate. "Around one-third of the -400s were purchased for their range capability, not size, so there is a bifurcation of the market, but we are still looking at a huge replacement potential," Tinseth adds.

Source: Flight International