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Boeing brightened the future of the flagship 747-8 programme by confirming a year-old agreement with Volga-Dnepr Group to acquire 20 more freighters over the next six years, although exact terms and scheduling for the deliveries were not released.

Neither Boeing nor Volga-Dnepr offered answers to a long list of questions about the transaction during a brief announcement ceremony and photo opportunity at the Farnborough air show's Cargo Village.

Boeing confirmed in a press release only that four of the 20 747-8Fs involved in the agreement had already been delivered. It is not clear if the aircraft were leased or purchased.

Volga-Dnepr first committed to buy 20 747-8Fs at the Paris air show in June 2015, signing a memorandum of understanding to purchase and lease 20 of the type over the next seven years. AirBridgeCargo operates the 747-8Fs acquired by parent company Volga-Dnepr.

In November, Boeing revealed that two 747-8Fs had been added to the balance sheet of its in-house finance arm, Boeing Capital. Those aircraft were believed to have been rented to AirBridgeCargo.

Boeing has put the 747-8 programme on the industrial equivalent of life support over the last three years.

The backlog has dwindled to only 21 orders of both the freighter and passenger version, with only 125 sales overall since the programme launch. Several of the 21 orders still in the backlog are unlikely to be filled, with four assigned to the defunct Russian carrier Transaero. Two more remain in backlog for Arik Air, which has said it will not take delivery of the aircraft. On the other hand, the US Air Force has committed to buy at least two 747-8s as a replacement for "Air Force One", the presidential transport derived from the 747-200.

Meanwhile, Boeing is reducing the monthly production rate for the widebody from a peak of 2.5 to 0.5 in September. The programme has made several moves to cut costs, including integrating empennage assembly with the 767 programme and taking back some structural assembly tasks from supplier Triumph after 2019.

If the AirBridgeCargo order is completed in full, Boeing could have more than five years of backlog at the planned production rate of 0.5 per month. That could keep the 747-8 in production long enough for another sales boost after 2019, when Boeing expects a flood of orders to replace retiring 747-400Fs and MD-11 Freighters.

Source: Cirium Dashboard