Dubai Air Show

Boeing hopes to bloody A380 with its 747-8s

 - December 11, 2006, 9:45 AM

As Airbus prepared to parade the A380 in Dubai, Boeing finally launched the Advanced 747 as a serious competitor. At a hastily called low-key unveiling in London last Tuesday, Alan Mulally, the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, announced orders for 18 B747-8 Freighters worth $5 billion from Cargolux and Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA). Orders for the new passenger version will follow next year, he confidently predicted.

Mulally explained that the designation 747-8 has been chosen “to highlight the use of 787 Dreamliner technologies which will take the 747 to the next level of performance.” General Electric’s new GEnx engines are the key enabler, but Boeing is also enhancing the 747 wing and using next-generation alloys to reduce weight.

The seating capacity of the 747-8 will increase to 450 passengers in a typical three-class configuration by means of two fuselage plugs. “That’s right in the sweet spot between our 365-seat 777-300ER and the 555-seat A380,” said Mulally. Boeing claims that trip costs for the 747-8 will be 22 percent lower than those for the A380, and seat-mile costs will be 6 percent lower.

The 747-8 Freighter will have a longer plug in the forward fuselage, so that an extra four 125- by 96-inch pallets may be carried on the main deck and three more 125- by 88-inch pallets below, compared with the 747-400 freighter. The maximum payload will increase to 140 tons (309,000 pounds) and ton-mile costs will be reduced by 15 percent. That’s 23 percent lower than the A380 Freighter, according to Boeing.

Freighter orders have kept the 747 line going for the past three years, and the backlog is now 47, nearly all of them -400Fs or -400ERFs. Boeing is increasing the production rate for these models, prior to switching the line to the 747-8 in 2009. The “new generation” 747 will make its first flight in late 2008. Luxembourg-based Cargolux will receive its first aircraft in September 2009, and NCA a couple of months later. The two cargo carriers have also taken a further 10 and six options, respectively.

The European carrier has been pressing Boeing to launch an improved 747 Freighter for two years. Its president and CEO Uli Ogiermann joined Mulally at the launch and noted that, in addition to the increased payload and reduced unit cost, the 747-8F “will set a new standard in noise reduction.” The noise footprint will be 30 percent lower than that of the 747-400, according to Boeing, so that the new version will be Stage 4-compliant, and meet the stringent QC2 standard on takeoff.

Although the 747-8 benefits from technology transfer, a big part of Boeing’s sales pitch is what will not change, compared with today’s 747-400. The new version can fly into the same 210 airports, using the same pilot type ratings and services, and most ground support equipment. By implication, airlines that are shopping for a 400-plus seater can avoid the extra expense on infrastructure that choosing the A380 entails.

“Over the next 20 years, we see a market for 900 aircraft with more than 400 seats–and the 747-8 will capture more than 50 percent of that,” Mulally said. “The Queen of the Skies will go on forever,” he said.