As the Boeing 747-8F freighter wraps up its flight testing programme for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification in preparation for a September entry into service (EIS) with Luxembourg-based Cargolux Airlines, launch customer for the passenger 747-8I Intercontinental variant, Lufthansa, has reaffirmed an early 2012 entry into service (EIS) target for the biggest iconic jumbo jet the Chicago-based airframer has ever built.
“We plan to receive our first B747-8I on time in early 2012,” Lufthansa spokesman Frank Puettmann said.
However, Lufthansa has not planned the variant’s first destination yet.
“We have no decision yet about the first destination. The B747-8 can fly anywhere where the current 747-400 also flies to,” Puettmann explained.
The 747-8I Intercontinental flight test fleet, comprising of the first, second and third flight test examples dubbed RC001, RC021 and RC003, respectively, has logged around 450 hours of flight hours so far and the first test example earmarked for a Kuwaiti private customer has begun the outboard aileron modal suppression system (OAMS) tests on 7th August. The outboard aileron modal suppression (OAMS) system, which utilises the roll-axis fly-by-wire system, is designed to automatically dampen out the slight 2.3 Hz plus or minus 2.5 cm (1 inch) flutter issue discovered during early 747-8F flight tests, flightglobal reported.
Meanwhile, since the second flight test example, dubbed RC021, conducted the nautical air mile (NAMS) tests this June, some rumours have suggested that the 747-8I missed its specific fuel consumption (SFC) target of 2.6 litres (L) of fuel per passenger per 100 kilometres in a 467 3-class configuration and that the aircraft is seriously overweight.
On the contrary to these rumours, while the General Electric (GE) GEnx-2B engines powering the 747-8 aircraft family did miss its specific fuel consumption (SFC) target, Aspire Aviation understands that the better-than-anticipated aerodynamic efficiency of the aircraft more than offset the GEnx-2B engine’s higher fuel burn which Aspire Aviation‘s source at the world’s second-largest aircraft manufacturer puts the SFC at closer to 2% higher than originally envisaged and the little overweight at or around 1 tonne.
“The actual manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) or the actual operating empty weight (OEW) of the A/C [airframe] is not yet frozen. We estimate a slight increase in weight compared to the contracted weight. But early predictions show that this insignificant weight increase will be well compensated by better than expected aerodynamic performance of the airframe leading to a better than expected mission efficiency,” Lufthansa spokesman Frank Puettmann revealed.
Lufthansa plans to configure its 747-8I Intercontinental with 386 seats with 80 business class and 296 economy class seats. The Star Alliance carrier has originally planned to feature 405 seats in the aircraft which would have enabled the 747-8I to burn 3.51 L of fuel per passenger per 100 km whereas the 426-seat Airbus A380-800 burns 3.4 L. As the seat count of the Boeing 747-400 successor designed to fill a capacity gap between the 365-seat smaller sibling 777-300ER and the 525-seat Airbus A380 superjumbo or LH’s 345-seat A340-600 and 526-seat A380 decreases, fuel burn measured in terms of litres of fuel per passenger per 100 kilometres would naturally increase. A point which is noteworthy is, fuel burn figures vary significantly depending on configurations and any direct comparison in fuel burn in different configurations would likely be skewed.
For instance, Boeing argues that the 747-8I Intercontinental is more than 10% lighter per seat than the A380 and has a 11% lower fuel burn, which translates into 6% and 21% advantages in seat mile costs and trip costs when compared to the A380, respectively; whereas European plane-maker Airbus claims the 525-seat A380 has an 8% lower relative fuel burn and a 14% lower cash operating cost (COC) versus the new Boeing jumbo jet in a 405-seat configuration.
Furthermore, the fuel efficiency of the General Electric (GE) GEnx-2B engines is likely to be improved over time as the Ohio-based engine-maker mulls to feature the performance improvement package (PIP) 1 and PIP 2 going to be retrofitted on early batches of GEnx-powered Boeing 787 Dreamliner onto its bigger sibling.
“During our testing, we noticed we needed to improve our SFC, and GE has plans in place to ensure we meet the SFC targets on both engine lines [the GEnx-1B on the 787 and GEnx-2B on the 747-8] through the PIP (performance improvement package) programmes,” General Electric Aircraft Engines (GEAE) spokeswoman Deborah Case acknowledged.
“GE Aviation is looking into a PIP programme for the GEnx-2B (which would be PIP 1 on the -2B), but it has not been finalised. The -1B PIP 1 provides a 1.4% improvement in SFC than the original configuration. PIP 2 will bring an additional 1.5% improvement in SFC,” Case conceded.
The PIP 1 and PIP 2 would deliver a combined 2.9% of reduction in the GEnx-1B engine’s specific fuel consumption (SFC) and bring the -1B engine, widely believed to have missed its original SFC target by 2%-3%, in line or slightly better than the SFC target originally envisioned.
“For PIP 1, we are nearing the end of ground testing and working on the FAA certification. GE has conducted flight tests on the engine and the results have been very position,” Case asserted.
“GE did ship engines in late May for flight testing. We anticipate the PIP 1 entering service early next year. PIP 2 on the GEnx-1B engine began testing in December 2010. We anticipate engine certification in June 2012 and entry into service in late 2012 or early 2013,” Case clarified.
On the sales front, following the declaration by senior Boeing executives that 2011 would be “the year of 747″, the sales of the 747-8 aircraft family gained traction as it racked up 7 net orders so far this year, including a Korean Air order for 2 additional 747-8F freighters and General Electric Capital Aviation Services (GECAS)’s order for 2 747-8F freighters, as well as a provisional order for 5 747-8I Intercontinentals from Chinese flag carrier Air China. The airframer also received 17 orders for the Intercontinental passenger variant during June’s Paris Air Show, including 15 from an airline that is understood to be Hong Kong Airlines.
Looking ahead, as airlines around the world begin to replace their ageing Boeing 747-400 fleet and particularly those in the Asia/Pacific market would look for a modest up-gauging in capacity in light of air traffic demand growth buoyed by a growing middle class in these emerging economies, the market for very large airplane (VLA) nonetheless remains relatively small as a niche. According to the Chicago-based airframer’s latest current market outlook (CMO), VLAs will only account for 820 units between 2011 and 2030 whereas the twin-aisle airplanes will account for 7,330 airplanes.
“The market for large planes is small – about 10% of the market by value – and Airbus has been extremely aggressive about A380 pricing. But the A380 is basically sized for the 550-seat market,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president (VP) of analysis at Fairfax, Virginia-based aerospace consultancy Teal Group.
“While the 747-8’s non-recurring costs have spiralled upwards, the upside is that it is now a modern 450-seat design with state-of-the-art engines and systems. It will very likely have better seat-mile costs than the A380. It will also be easier to fill, with more belly cargo capacity relative to size,” Aboulafia commented.
Indeed, the 747-8I Intercontinental has a total cargo volume of 5,705 cubic feet and a revenue cargo volume of 3,895 cu. ft. whereas the A380 has a total cargo volume of 6,191 cubic feet and a revenue cargo volume of 3,336 cubic feet. Similarly, the 777-300ER has a total cargo volume of 7,120 cu. ft. and a revenue cargo volume of 5,191 cu. ft.
As Asia handles 39.9% of 2010’s worldwide air freight and is only expected to surge further as the Asian economies take flight amid global economic uncertainties, the significantly larger revenue cargo volume on both passenger and cargo variants would position the biggest member of the 747 family well (“Chinese airlines need more than just time for ordering A380s“, 11th Apr, 11).
“As for the cargo version it is in a class by itself, particularly with that opening front cargo door. Emirates’ -8F order emphasised the 747’s status as the best large cargo plane ever. This point has been further reinforced by the A380F shelving,” Aboulafia conceded.
“Boeing’s goals for the -8 production are pretty modest at two per month. There is no reason to doubt their ability to generate orders at that pace, so I am not concerned about the order book, particularly after Paris. Avoiding a total programme loss, of course, depends on a great many events and tends over the next 20 years, so it is probably a bit early to speculate,” Aboulafia commented on the soundness of the 747-8’s order book and whether an upgraded 777 in the next decade will further undermine the business case of the 747-8I Intercontinental.
In a Jefferies & Co Aerospace & Defense conference last week, Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) chief executive Jim Albaugh said the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) met last week on the 747-8F freighter certification, while adding that “we have commitments for 22 more 747-8s that will add to order book in near future”.
“We think once it enters into service we are going to have a lot of interest from a lot of airlines,” Albaugh conceded.
Last but not least, as the 747-8I Intercontinental gears up for first delivery in early 2012, there is little doubt that newest member of the 747 family will be good airplane, with further improvements on fuel burn in the pipeline. A certain point is, however, it would be an interesting development to watch how will Boeing design its mulled 777 upgrade with potentially a GEnx-technology engine and/or a new wing with more composite content whose unparalleled payload/range capability could very well encroach into the 747-8I Intercontinental’s potential market, which remains too early to tell for the foreseeable future.
“We are talking to half a dozen airlines right now, not just about the 777 but the 777X,” Albaugh revealed at the Jeffereies & Co. conference in New York.
“We have been spending a lot of time with Boeing since the Paris Air Show. We have looked at different scenarios on an improved version of the 777. There are multiple variations, some involve minor changes, some involve completely new wings, some involve aerodynamic improvements, some involve a brand new engine which GE would have to develop as a follow-on to the GE90,” Air Lease Corporation (ALC) chief executive Steven Udvar Hazy said on its 2011 second-quarter earnings call.
“Some of those options are extremely costly in terms of development cost and would involve significant redesign of the airplane. Others are more what I call band aid solutions to be competitive with the A350-1000. But everything is still on the table and I do not think Boeing is going to come to any quick decisions on any of those programmes because they involve tremendous amount of resources both financial and engineering design resources and I think, first Boeing has to grip with getting 787 flying [in revenue services]. I think that is really the number one goal right now of the company,” Hazy added.
Only time will tell…