Boeing is leaving the door open to building the longer-range, short-stretch version of the 747-8 Intercontinental to meet Emirates' requirements, despite the fact that it has adopted a 5.6m (18.4ft) stretch of the freighter as the baseline for the passenger model.

The recent move to standardise both 747-8 offerings around the freighter increases the 747-8I's typical three-class seating by 17 seats to 467 over the original version offered, but results in a 500km (270nm) range penalty.

"We felt that the broader market placed a higher economic value on increased capacity," says 747-8 programme vice-president Dan Mooney. "We felt that was a better trade - economics versus range."

However, Emirates Airline president Tim Clark says that while the 747-8I is being evaluated to meet its requirement for a 400-seater to operate on direct services between Dubai and Los Angeles, the new version with the 5.6m extension cannot carry a "meaningful payload" on the route. "By our rules, it will only be able to carry around 70% of its passenger load."

The original 747-8I had a 2m forward fuselage plug, but the new version's plug is increased to 4.1m. "Why doesn't Boeing offer one version with the short forward plug and one with the longer plug?" asks Clark. "I think that if we went to Boeing and said we'd order 20 of the shorter-fuselage variant, they'd probably go for it."

Mooney does not rule out building two versions, but says: "Right now we think the right answer is to build one. It's primarily a business decision, whether it makes sense to offer and develop two different configurations - does the market size justify that?"

He says the company could "potentially" have an airline order for the 747-8I by the end of this year, and that interest is "pretty evenly spread" between Europe, the Middle East and Australasia.

Meanwhile, Mooney says that although a number of potential 747-8I customers have expressed an interest in using the "SkyLoft" area in the crown of the main deck as a galley to free up space for more seats in the passenger cabin, few seem convinced by the prospect of using the area for the proposed "SkySuites" cabins. The overhead galley option typically increases three-class seating by 12 seats to 479.

Source: Flight International