Boeing has pushed back by three months production of the first 747-8, the latest iteration of its venerable flagship, citing a need to avoid “operational risk” as it switches from the manufacture of the current 747-400 model. The move will provide additional time for completion of engineering work for the new variant.
Initially, the U.S. company had expected to roll out the first 747-8, a cargo -8F for Luxembourg-based Cargolux, in November 2008. Now, that milestone event faces a likely delay of three months, to February 2009.
Boeing claims it will not need to change the delivery schedule, set for the “third quarter 2009,” according to the company in November 2005. “With this adjustment in the production schedule, it maintains the 747-8 Freighter’s delivery date is on schedule to deliver in late 2009,” the company told AIN on Friday.
“The original schedule presented an operational risk by switching production back and forth between the 747-400 Freighter and 747-8 Freighter,” the company said. Under the initial plan, the first 747-8F was to be followed by a mix of the final six 747-400Fs and three more 747-8Fs, with manufacture swapping between the two. Now, all 747-400Fs will be completed first.
“This creates a smooth transition between the two airplanes, reduces risk and provides more time to complete engineering work on the 747-8 Freighter,” Boeing told AIN. The company denied a reported move of resources from the 747-8 project to the 787 and 777 freighter programs. The first 747-8I “Intercontinental” passenger variant is scheduled to enter service with Lufthansa in late 2010.
Confirmation of the 747-8F production delay came just days after leading Asian operator Cathay Pacific Airways ordered ten 747-8F cargo aircraft, powered by General Electric GENx-2B67 engines. It also has taken options on a further 14 such machines, and ordered seven GE90-115-engined Model 777-300ER long-range twinjets.
Cathay became the eighth 747-8F customer, bringing total orders to 73 aircraft. It already operates 19 747 freighters on its Hong Kong-based global route network. Boeing did not disclose delivery dates for the aircraft, but GE said it would deliver the first in “late 2009,” following into service four 747-400ERs and two 747-400 Boeing Converted Freighters already on order.
The new 777-300ERs complement existing orders covering 19 such aircraft, while Cathay also committed to leasing four further examples from another source to bring its total to 30 by 2012. Cathay’s first 777-300ER entered service two months ago.
Boeing also has firmed the configuration of the 747-8I passenger variant, meaning that it has completed major trade studies to finalize performance and interior features. But the news–coming just days after commercial service of the Airbus A380 very-large airliner began with Singapore Airlines–came as local Dubai carrier Emirates was apparently trying to negotiate (or re-negotiate) a design definition that would permit the airline to operate full 747-8Is non-stop from Dubai to Los Angeles. (The results of those discussion may be made known here this week at the show.)
Sufficient range to meet Emirates’s performance requirements might have been available with the passenger variant as initially configured, some two meters shorter than the cargo version. But Boeing then adopted the freighter’s longer airframe for both versions after wind-tunnel tests suggested a greater-than-expected 8,300 nm range could be achieved–extra distance that was exchanged for more seats by use of the freighter’s longer fuselage.