The 747-8: Lufthansa-Boeing’s mistake

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LH748Lufthansa is a name to reckon with. It is more than just an airline: It has shaped the history of aviation, and the fortunes of an airplane manufacturer: Boeing. Interestingly, both the airline and the manufacturer have the same roots: German.

The “relationship" between the operator and the manufacturer began with Lufthansa’s choice of the Boeing 707, over two other airplane manufacturers. The airline didn’t accept the standard aircraft: It opted for the Rolls-Royce Conway engines in place of the standard fit P&W JT4A.

Boeing’s flight deck and fuselage cross section commonality between the 707 and the 727 made the 727 a perfect fit for the airline’s need for a medium range airliner: it cut training costs involved with a transition from one fleet to another, for both the cockpit and cabin crew. In early 1971, Lufthansa’s jet fleet was entirely made up of Boeing airplanes.

Prof. Gerhard Höltje, one of Lufthansa’s former Technical Directors, convinced Boeing to build the Boeing 737: a tailor-made short-haul jet for Lufthansa; convincing Boeing wasn’t easy . The cockpit layout was similar to the 727 and the 707s in the fleet. In addition, when the Boeing 737-200Adv was launched with new avionics, it was Lufthansa, Sperry (now Honeywell), and Boeing that froze the design of the popular mode control panel (MCP), the design of which is still largely retained on today’s Boeing 737NG airplanes. Boeing’s eventual agreement, and Lufthansa’s persistence, have made the fortunes of the airplane manufacturer. Which is why Luftansa proudly states, “The Boeing 737 –“made" by Lufthansa".

The Boeing 747-8, is yet another Lufthansa-Boeing airplane. Lufthansa needed an airplane with a slightly greater seating capacity than its existing 747-400s, and Boeing was a bit lost on the replacement for its 747-400, the last of which was produced in 2009. Boeing had earlier maintained, in the face of the Airbus A380 launch, that the market for big airplanes, the likes of the A380, did not exist, in light of the changing trends in air transport. Which is why Boeing invested so much effort into the 787 Dreamliner program.

Teams from Lufthansa, Lufthansa Technik, and Boeing sat together in shaping the 747-8.

Program Launch

In was in the November of 2005 that the “747-8" was officially announced. But in early 2009, only one customer: Lufthansa, had ordered the passenger version of the airplane: the 747-8i. Till date, there have been only 40 orders for the 747-8i (With 13 delivered to Lufthansa and one to a private operator), and 60 orders for the 747-8F (Freighter version), of which 32 have been delivered to Atlas Air, Cargolux, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, Nippon Cargo, and Volga-Dnepr. In total, there have been 100 orders since the program was launched about 8 years ago.

In stark contrast, the total orders of the Airbus A380 stand at 262: crossing the often acknowledged break even sales of around 200 airplanes. The program was launched in 1994, and the aircraft christened the “A380" in the year 2000.

In the typical 3 class configuration, the A380 sits about 58 passengers more, and flies further than the 747-8i: About 500NM more when both take off at their respective MTOW.

Early last month, Boeing admitted to losing an order for five 747-8F, placing pressure on the troubled program. Boeing has also parked two 747-8F at the Marana Pinal Airpark in the Arizona desert for long-term storage as the cargo carriers that ordered them cannot use them given the slump in the worldwide air-cargo market. A whitetail 747-8F sits at Everett, without a customer, and three other -8Fs have been re-registered, indicating deferrals in delivery.

Further bad news from Lufthansa is its consideration for an early 747-8 replacement, with the 777-9X. Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz has stated his preference for a twin over a quad jet, simply because of the inherent efficiencies. Lufthansa is preparing to abandon its first fortune dwindling baby: the result of two great companies with claimed industry farsightedness that wasn’t so far sighted, this time around. So far, Lufthansa is the only airline to fly both the new jumbos: the A380, and the 747-8i. The 747-8 is the anticlimax of the Lufthansa-Boeing product relationship.

Despite the warmer response towards the 747-8F from cargo airlines, the numbers aren’t encouraging, with possible delivery challenges arising in 2014. The 747 program, known to have spawned the era of the “jumbo-jet" travel, has lost its large capacity passenger market to the Airbus A380, and its cargo freighter demand to the twin engine Boeing 777F.

The Queen of the Skies has lost her airspace.

4 thoughts on “The 747-8: Lufthansa-Boeing’s mistake”

  1. But the Boeing costs $38.5 million dollars less (at retail) and has a greater range by 1700 miles. That’s the difference between making NY to Sidney non-stop or not. Not sure that I’d call it a mistake, though I certainly will acknowledge that sales have not been as brisk as hoped. Being sold predominantly as a cargo freighter, the economic downturn in worldwide cargo demand has certainly hurt them.

    • The Boeing 747-8i has a range a little less than 6000NM at MTOW. The A380 has, at MTOW, a little more than 6500NM. As per published range diagrams, the 747-8 cannot make it to continental Australia. The A380, on the other hand, can!

    • From the published data I see, they are pretty much the same with range with A380 having a very very slight edge. Beware that 747-8 is currently flying without filling in all the tanks because of vibration problems. That might contribute to the shorter range as seen some figures today.

      And the article is so wrong in quoting 200pc as the “well accepted” point of A380 break even. Because it is “well accepted” at least 7 years ago that it can’t be 200. Airbus pubished the figure at 200 at a very early stage and they revised it up and then

      AIRBUS STATE THAT IT IS OVER 460 units in 2006.

      (Do your homework!!! http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/10/20/a380_break_even/)

      And that is well before the plane flew and the economy went bust in 2008. The figure is only going up and Airbus no longer talk about that figure. At the moment they still loss money on every unit they deliver. They expect to stop that happening around 2015 (I forget the exact time). Is it going to bring back the research cost? God knows. We have to look at it may be 20 more years.

      While the Germans are cutting loss with 747-8 which they proposed, the Emirate is bailing out their baby A380 this year at Dubai Airshow.

      The way I see i747-8 is simple. Everyone knows it can’t kill the A380. It is there to do as much damage as it can. It took 100 orders from A380 and killed the A380F. So it has done the job. Does that benefit Boeing? We have to look at the development cost of 747-8. I have a bit of doubts since it was far more complicated than the the time the set out the plan. Boeing should be selling many more 747F but they aren’t due to bad economy.

      At the end, by hurting A380 so much, 747-8 might have killed this category of plane or at least delay the development of the sector for many years to come.

  2. Bonnie said:

    like anything else. Something always replaces something,

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