Boeing, which has accumulated orders for 106 747-8s (78-8F freighters and 28-8I passenger models) since launching the General Electric GEnx-powered family three years ago, should now be flight-testing its 747-400 successor. But after a series of schedule delays – and two changes of programme leadership within...
Boeing, which has accumulated orders for 106 747-8s (78-8F freighters and 28-8I passenger models) since launching the General Electric GEnx-powered family three years ago, should now be flight-testing its 747-400 successor. But after a series of schedule delays – and two changes of programme leadership within 18 months – assembly of the first 747-8F (the leas variant) is still not complete and first flight is at least three to four months away. Deliveries to launch customer Cargolux, which were due to begin late this year, will now start no earlier than mid-2010.
"After we got to the 90% release milestone of engineering drawings in early third quarter of 2008 and started to begin production we realised we weren't getting the parts in on time. A lot of [the issues] came home at that point," said 747 chief engineer Michael Teal when the slip was announced last year.
Output was due to rise from 12 aircraft in 2008 to 21 this year (having been reduced last year from the earlier target of 25) and this has since been revised further downwards to 18 as assembly lines struggle to transition from the almost hand-built process used for early aircraft to series production, dubbed "Wave 2".
Like the freighter, the -8I has been subject to schedule slips with Lufthansa's first delivery sliding from mid-2010 to the second quarter of 2011. In the meantime, the market for the freighter version - which is by far the stronger of the two variants commercially - has disappeared as the cargo industry faces a crisis of rapidly declining demand.
In the wake of the 747-8 delay - and the related $685 million charge - Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney hinted in January that continuation of the programme should not be seen as a foregone conclusion:
"We still see a viable business proposition here," he said. "Now obviously if we ever got to a point where we didn't, we'd have to work with our customers to come up with another answer."
Boeing has managed to land only one airline customer for the -8I passenger version - Lufthansa - which became launch customer for the 450-seater in 2006.