[Corrects date for delivery of first 747-8.]

Boeing now acknowledges that sticking to the 747-8 Freighter programme’s original schedule could mean that the aircraft is delivered slightly above nominal weight targets.

“We’re a little heavier than I’d like us to be,” Ross Bogue, Boeing 747-8 VP and General Manager, told a group of reporters yesterday.

The first aircraft, which is scheduled for delivery in late 2009, is slightly less than 1% above its weight target, he adds. Boeing lists the maximum zero fuel weight for the 747-8F as 321,600kg (709,000lbs), meaning that even a 1% difference could exceed three tons.

Part of the weight problem is caused by Boeing’s decision to keep deliveries for the 747-8 on schedule, Bogue says. If deliveries were delayed, Boeing’s engineers would gain more time to optimize the design of the aircraft to reduce weight.

However, Boeing remains committed to the original schedule, and the company still hopes to reduce the aircraft weight to nominal targets before first delivery.

The 747-8 has faced schedule pressure since late last year. A supply chain breakdown that caused an at least eight month delay for the 787 programme meant that engineers from that programme could not be transferred to work on the next-generation 747.

Boeing solved that problem by outsourcing engineering work to a variety of aerospace firms abroad, including in Russia and Spain.

The engineering workforce at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) sites in St. Louis, Missouri, and Long Beach, California, also were loaned to the programme.

Although this strategy helped to overcome the workforce shortfall for the 747-8F, Boeing also has learned that the work was distributed too broadly, Bogue says.

“I would tell you we spread the work too far on the Freighter,” he says.

As development work ramps up next year for the passenger 747-8 Intercontinental, Boeing will place a higher concentration of engineering work among a few number of suppliers, Bogue explains.

The 747-8I has attracted only one order by a commercial airline from launch customer Lufthansa, which is buying 20. Boeing also has sold six 747-8s in a VIP layout.

Bogue partly blames the lack of additional orders on production delays for the Airbus A380. Those problems meant that several airlines decided to postpone purchase decisions for 747-200 and 747-400 replacements, he says.

At the same time, Bogue also believes that the 555-seat A380 and the 461-seat 747-8I should not be viewed by the market as competitive aircraft types. Rather, he says, the 747-8I occupies a standalone niche in the ultra-long range widebody market.

Boeing has lowered its market outlook for the 747-8 to reflect the decision by British Airways last year to order a batch of A380s.

Bogues says the market for the 747-8 now represents about 345 aircraft, of which about 75% belongs to the 747-8F. That means Boeing projects about 85 aircraft sales for the 747-8I, of which 26 are already accounted for between sales to Lufthansa and Boeing Business Jets.

Boeing remains in active discussions with 14 potential customers for a total of 90 aircraft.

Source: flightglobal.com's sister premium news site Air Transport Intelligence

Boeing 747 aircraft profile

Source: FlightGlobal.com