Lufthansa is hopeful that it will begin to receive an improved version of the Boeing 747-8I with performance closer to original expectations by the time its 11th aircraft arrives in around two years' time.
The German airline has just taken delivery of the first of 20 General Electric GEnx-powered 747-8Is it has on order and is due to receive them at a rate of five a year through to 2015.
Speaking on 2 May at the delivery ceremony in Frankfurt, Carsten Spohr, chief executive of Lufthansa's passenger division, said while the 747-8's fuel burn had been lower than expected during the 1 May ferry flight from Seattle, performance is still below expectations. "It's within the limits which we took into our calculation, but it's not quite as good as Boeing and we were hoping," he said.
"This is due to weight - resulting in higher fuel burn - and the engine, which can be further improved."
Spohr says that fuel flow on the 747-8 is "more than 10%" lower than the 747-400 at the same weight, and its efficiency is close to the much larger A380 in Lufthansa's fleet, in seat/mile cost terms: "We believe we will get very close - not quite [equal] - to the A380."
Lufthansa's "second batch" of 747-8s will be an improved version, he adds. "I expect from aircraft 11 to have improvements. This delivery depends on whether we stretch delivery times, but we're talking 2014 on today's schedule."
Spohr has warned that a rescheduling of orders could happen if Lufthansa cannot achieve its cost-saving and efficiency targets over the next two years.
Meanwhile the airline is relaxed about the 747-8I's sluggish sales performance, but would like to see the customer base expand in the longer term. "I love the exclusivity I can give my passengers now, but in the end, bigger fleets have advantages in terms of spare parts and residual value," Spohr says. "When people see this entry into service being successful, there will be more demand for the 747-8."