Boeing plans first flight of new 747-8 Intercontinental this weekend

By John Walton, March 18 2011
Boeing plans first flight of new 747-8 Intercontinental this weekend

Boeing's stretched 747-8 Intercontinental will make its first flight in Seattle this weekend, if the programme announced at a conference this week goes according to plan.

Airlines still haven't snapped the new plane up, though, with many airlines opting for either smaller Boeing 777-300ER or larger Airbus A380 planes instead. 

The new 747-8I has only been ordered by Lufthansa, Korean Air and Air China so far. Boeing plans to deliver the first planes to launch customer Lufthansa later this year.

The 747-8I is likely to take a faster track into service than the significantly delayed Airbus A380 and Boeing 787, both of which were years later than originally planned. 

Boeing and the 747-8I have the advantage with regulators of being an upgrade to an existing aircraft rather than an entirely new plane. 

As a result, it doesn't need to go through as strict a set of regulatory tests, and can use the results of previous tests instead, meaning a faster path to regular service. 

John Leahy, Chief Operating Officer at Boeing's main competitor Airbus, recently complained the new 747 isn't required to undergo new evacuation tests and can rely on older tests from the 23-year-old 747-400 certification process, despite the new plane carrying over 10 percent more passengers.

Business travellers can look forward to sitting in the stretched upstairs cabin -- where most airlines put business class on 747s -- or in the quiet and exclusive nose cabin, where most airlines put first class if they have it, or business class if they don't. 

And travellers might well be flying on the 747-8I earlier than they think.

Airbus has a 200-aircraft order backlog for the aircraft's main competition, the A380 -- which it can produce at a maximum rate of 45 aircraft per year. 

As a result, an airline looking to buy a very large aircraft like the A380 or 747-8I could pick up earlier deliveries of a 747-8I five to six years before the current earliest possible A380 delivery date.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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