The 747 Jumbo Jet is an iconic aircraft. For years, it was the only double-deck commercial airliner and for many it is a favorite. From its first flight in 1969, the 747 has changed quite a bit. The newest iteration, the 747-8, might sport a similar shape to the original 747 or the 747-400, but it is quite a different beast (more than just LED lighting). This past weekend, the 1,500th 747 was delivered to Lufthansa Airlines. About a week earlier, Boeing took the opportunity to talk about their largest commercial airliner and its future relevance.
I was invited to Boeing’s factory in Everett to sit down with Eric Lindblad, vice president and general manager of the 747 program, and we had a down-to-earth conversation about where the 747 has been, where it is today, and where Boeing is hoping it is going.
The big message that Lindblad wanted to get across is, “this is not your mother’s 747.” Not only is the 747-8I a very different aircraft than the 747-400, but the 70th 747-8 is much more efficient than the first one, and they plan to keep making it more efficient.
The aircraft has been doing very well while in service with eight different operators. The 747-8 has flown over 385,000 flight hours and have served 150 different airports. The 747-8 has a dispatch reliability rate of 98.9%, which is exactly where Boeing was hoping it would be.
Boeing has improved the operating costs of the 747-8 3.5% since the introduction of the first aircraft. The number might seem small, but it adds up to big money. A 3.5% improvement is a savings of about $1.94 million dollars per year per aircraft. The 747-8 is 16% more fuel efficient than the 747-400 – that’s $8.8 million per aircraft per year savings.
They have done this by implementing the Performance Improvement Package (PIP) engine upgrade, aerodynamic improvements, activating the additional tail fuel tank, and reducing the weight by 7,200 pounds.
Many (including even us) have questioned the continuing viability of the 747. Without many orders in the books, can the 747 line survive the long-term? Boeing needs to get additional customers to ensure the survivability of the aircraft.
Although Boeing would not directly state they have some customers on the line, it was strongly hinted that we might be hearing about a potential new customer or two in the upcoming months.
One example of future operations they gave was wanting the 747-8I to be able to take off, fully loaded, any time of the year (even in a hot environment) and fly 8,200 miles. Lindblad stated that this could make the aircraft fly routes like Hong Kong to New York and Los Angeles to Dubai. It was interesting to me that he used Dubai as an example.
There are three viable candidates in the Dubai area who could possibly take on the 747-8 Intercontinental: Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad.
Although I’ve had the CEO of Emirates, Tim Clark, tell me directly that they have absolutely no interest in the aircraft, the airline is growing like gangbusters and wants large aircraft quickly. They have 92 Airbus A380s and 150 777Xs on order, and it will take a long while to get all those in service. The Boeing 747-8I is sitting without a long backlog and could enter service much quicker. Do the adamant “no’s” really mean no – or a negotiation strategy?
Qatar and Etihad are also two airlines that are growing very quickly and are looking to expand their fleet with large aircraft; both have 10 Airbus A380s on order. As with Emirates, they are looking to provide a high-end product to a high number of passengers.
All three middle east carriers have been competing for the biggest and best products. Etihad recently unveiled an apartment-style first class product, and those sorts of large first class products are only viable in large aircraft like the A380 and 747-8. The Boeing 747-8 allows airlines to provide more premium product (first, business) options than the smaller 777 or A340/A330.
Farnborough is coming up next month, and when I asked Lindblad if we should expect a 747 announcement, he was not able to say. I would hope either during the airshow or shortly thereafter, Boeing is able to announce at least one additional customer for the plane. At the very least, hopefully the 747-8 will be the basis for the next-generation Air Force One, allowing the signature airframe to represent the U.S. to the world.
Boeing is confident that the 747 will be built for quite a bit longer, and they are optimistic that they have campaigns that will result in additional sales of the aircraft – I surely hope that is true. As an AvGeek, I love the majestic look of the 747, and who wouldn’t enjoy riding in the upper deck or the nose of the jumbo jet? But warm and fuzzy feelings don’t sell aircraft – the numbers do. And as Boeing is able to improve the numbers of the 747-8, it might open up the door to potential customers.