Passenger version of -8 derivative cleared for take-off as German flag carrier signs $5.5 billion deal for 20 aircraft

Boeing has officially launched the passenger version of the 747-8 on the back of firm orders for 20 aircraft and 20 purchase options from German flag carrier Lufthansa, but is stepping back from declaring all-out war on the beleagured Airbus A380, which the US manufacturer maintains is in a different market category.

Lufthansa 747-8 
© Boeing   

Lufthansa says its 747-8Is will "fit well" between its A340-600s and A380s

The 6 December order, worth around $5.5 billion at list prices, marks the go-ahead of the first stretch of the passenger version since the programme started almost 40 years ago. According to Flight's Acas database, this is the first new order for a passenger 747 since the November 2002 deal placed by China Airlines for six aircraft. All recent 747 orders have been for the freighter versions.

Lufthansa, which introduced its first 747 in 1970, plans to accept delivery of the first -8 Intercontinental in mid-2010 and will have all 20 firmly ordered aircraft in service by the end of 2013.

A decision on exercising the purchase rights will be determined by "the market", says Lufthansa corporate fleet senior vice-president Nico Buchholz: "We've been discussing [a larger 747] for at least five years with Boeing. It fits well between our 300-seat A340-600s and the A380." Buchholz adds that the 747-8 procurement was "not connected" to the delays to the A380.

Lufthansa, which also signed for a further seven A340-600s, now expects to introduce its first A380 in mid-2009, just one year ahead of the 467-seat 747-8.

Larry Dickenson, Boeing sales vice-president, also appears keen to distance the 747-8 and its recent success from the A380, which he says provides "top cover in a different market. The difference between the two will still be more than 100 seats."

Boeing 747/747-8 programme vice-president Dan Mooney says the Lufthansa order "gives a new level of credibility to what we believe will be the preferred large passenger aircraft". Since its launch in November 2005, total firm 747-8 orders, including the latest Lufthansa deal, have now risen to 73.

With large legacy 747 operators such as British Airways and Japan Airlines looking as though they could be 747-8 customers, the manufacturer appears optimistic of fresh sales in the coming months. Dickenson says "a year from now I'd be happy with 50 or 60 [firm -8I] orders. But this is a difficult business to predict."

Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice-president marketing Randy Baseler says that Boeing "continues to hold talks with 15 747-400 operators" about the 747-8 and "three to four" are very interested.

For more information about Boeing 747 production and orders please visit our 747 page

Source: Flight International