Lufthansa plans a 386-seat configuration of its new 747-8I when it arrives in its fleet in first quarter of 2012.

The stretched jet will be configured with eight first-class, 80 business-class and 298 economy seats.

Nico Buchholz, executive vice president, Lufthansa Group fleet management, says the carrier plans a new on-board product, which altered the available space on the aircraft.

"We started with slightly above 400 [seats], but that was the old standard, things evolve," he says, "We find things which we can do to the passengers - which are positive - and this usually does cost a couple of seats."

Details of the new on-board product were not disclosed.

Positioned between the 526-seat A380 and twin configuration 306- and 345-seat A340-600, the 747-8I will occupy a space that will allow the carrier to begin partly replacing its 23 747-400s and seven -400 Combis.

Buchholz says no timeline for the fleet's retirement has been identified, though market requirements will dictate the pace of the 747-400s' exit from the fleet.

Final route selection has not yet been determined, adds Buchholz, although he says 45 of the carrier's 70 long-haul routes are candidates for the first service.

Buchholz says the new aircraft will be able to meet the carrier's requirements. "All the mission profiles we want, we can meet," he says. "And actually we have very onerous points where we look for mission profiles, sometimes routes we don't fly, but we pinpoint certain areas to find if there are any weaknesses, and then we are extremely pleased when we don't find them. And I'm still pleased."

Buchholz anticipates a performance improvement package in the years to come and says they will have no operational impact on the aircraft "except we may save a little bit of fuel", he says.

The first 747-8I is slated to fly in the "early spring" - late March or April - and is expected to be certified in the third or fourth quarter following a 600h flight test campaign.

A total of 33 747-8I aircraft have been ordered, with Lufthansa accounting for the bulk of the backlog with 20. Korean Air holds orders for five of the aircraft, along with eight slated to be configured for head of state and VIP missions.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news