Singapore Air Show

Asian carriers evaluate Boeing’s new son-of-747

 - December 6, 2006, 11:18 AM

Three years had passed since Boeing sold any passenger-carrying 747s when the company surprised the pundits last November by launching the 747-8 on the strength of a pair of orders from two cargo carriers. Several airlines from the Asia/Pacific region have surfaced as possible takers for passenger versions of the reincarnated jumbo jet dubbed the Intercontinental, and Boeing would like nothing better than to stake a claim on the A380’s most important market right here at Asian Aerospace. As the show’s opening day approached, however, the region’s top prospects betrayed no immediate urgency to commit to the program.

“Some time this year is the way I’d say it right now,” Boeing vice president of 747 programs Jeff Peace said in response to Aviation International News’ queries about the timing of the first Intercontinental order.

In all, said Peace, Boeing has entered serious talks with 15 airlines, “mainly from Europe and Asia.” Of course, Peace would not name the prospects, but sources cite interest from Singapore Airlines in nine airplanes, as well as from Cathay Pacific in six. China Airlines of Taiwan–the last airline to order passenger 747s when it signed for four in November 2002–has also expressed interest in another six of the new GE GEnx-powered airplanes. Along with Singapore and Cathay, fellow Pacific Rim carriers Korean Air Lines, Qantas and Air New Zealand all took part in 747-400’s entry into service in 1989, placing them among the most likely targets for Boeing’s sales force in the region.  

“I’d say the interest is strongest where airlines are looking at replacing their 747-400 fleets, either freighters or passenger airplanes,” said Peace. “And the Intercontinental as a passenger airplane slips nicely in between 777-size aircraft and…it’s certainly not as large as the A380 and doesn’t have as much risk for introduction as the A380. And all the early 747-400s will be getting up to in the neighborhood of 20 years [old] at the end of this decade, when we intend to deliver the first Intercontinental.”

Notwithstanding Boeing’s apparent eagerness to compare the 747-8’s seat-mile and trip costs with the A380, Peace insists the two airplanes don’t really compete for the same market. In fact, he said he “absolutely” expects the 747-8 to garner serious consideration from present A380 customers, if for no other reason than to fill the 190-seat gap that exists between the 777-300ER and A380.

Plans call for the first cargo version, due for first flight in 2008, to go to launch customer Cargolux in September 2009, followed two months later by first deliveries to Nippon Cargo Airlines of Japan. Peace said Boeing will need at least six months from first delivery of the freighter to deliver the first passenger airplane, regardless of the identity of the launch customer.

The new engines chosen for the 747-8, scheduled for first flight on the Boeing 787 this summer, account for the biggest difference and contribute at least half of the projected 15-percent per-seat fuel burn improvement over the 747-400. A pair of fuselage plugs, changes to the wings and lift devices and a modernized flight deck account for most of the rest. Much of the systems architecture, including the flight controls, will remain the same, however, allowing the 747-8 and 747-400 to share common pilot type ratings and simulators.