Boeing plots support for 747-8

March 29, 2017, (c) Leeham Co.: Boeing is going to build and buy its own 747-8Fs, then lease them as a way to keep the 747 line alive, reports Bloomberg News.

With the effective shutdown by Congress of the U.S. Export-Import Bank — which traditionally has helped overseas carriers purchase planes — Boeing lost a key sales tool. Making matters worse, leasing companies have been hesitant to finance a plane with a dwindling customer base,” Bloomberg writes.

There are already five white tails, aircraft built for customers that canceled or deferred deliveries indefinitely. Nippon Cargo Airlines just canceled two aircraft, scheduled for delivery this year, which takes this to seven. Others that have canceled or deferred: Arik Air and Transaero. A twice-announced “commitment” from Volga-Dnepr Airlines/Air Bridge Cargo 20 747-8Fs failed to materialize more than four.

Production Gap

Boeing reduced production to a mere six per year, or one-half a 747 per month. Even at this low rate, Boeing has a production gap through 2020, when the last firm orders (that have not been deferred) are scheduled for delivery.

Click on image to enlarge and for a crisp view.

The order last year by UPS for 14 747-8Fs stretch to 2020 and in fact are the only deliveries in 2018 and 2020. There are plenty of options going forward, but with more and more air cargo going via belly capacity in Airbus A330s and A350s and Boeing 777s, 787s and from 2020, the even larger 777-9, demand for new-build, main-deck freighters continues to fall. Long-term soft air cargo demand exacerbates the problem.

Boeing’s self-dealing plan appears to be as much about the 5-7 white tails as it does boosting the demand going forward. The white tails represent an inventory of $750m-$1bn, LNC estimates (based on cost, not list price). The motivation to getting this inventory working and producing (lease) revenue is obvious.

With the US Air Force options for three 747-8s to recapitalize the Air Force One fleet and replace the “Doomsday” command center in 2020, Boeing also needs to fill the production gap.

37 Comments on “Boeing plots support for 747-8

  1. This is a “sad to see” situation, the King and Queen of the sky fading. But, maybe, the time has come “to pull the plug”?

    The twins engine sizes can’t grow forever?

    Won’t it make more sense spending the money on the development of the 777-10X aircraft (80m/450 seats/etc) with four new generation engines to replace the 747-8’s rather than keeping it alive?

    It could be the birth of another legend!

    Passengers and Presidents like flying in Big 4-engined aircraft.

    • Passengers and Presidents like flying in Big 4-engined aircraft.
      Well, there’s always the A380…

      In all seriousness – there is the A380, the chief reason why that article only talks about the 747-8F to begin with, as it’s the only variant to keep the 747 line alive.
      As for pax and president preferences… Pax like comfy and spacious planes. The number of engines is a secondary concern at best. Presidents… fickle bunch. Not too many that insist bigger is better, really, but they do it louder than the others.
      You’re right that more governments use 4-engined planes for VIP transport than airlines that use them. A lot of those are leased or bought second-hand, though, which partly explains the choice of 4-engined planes.
      For instance, Germany’s A340s were bought from Lufthansa when they were already 11 years old, Italy’s new A340 is actually ten years old and leased from Etihad. The list goes on like that.
      Few heads of state have the ego to go newer/bigger, and few heads of state manage get the cost of their egos’ requirements past their respective parliaments.

      • You’re right that more governments use 4-engined planes for VIP transport than airlines that use them.

        What I meant to say:
        “You’re right that more governments than airlines use 4-engined planes.”

        • They are cheap to buy, and low cost to operate in the low hours of VVIP flights.

          Forgotten but a recent new small airframe is the 4 engine Kawasaki P-1 which has the same role as Boeings 737 based P-8. Much the same size too

          • US has a requirement that the mostly used AF-1 be 4 engine (if possible, they use other means, Aka Marine 1 is a Helicopter, ergh.

          • Not always a 4 engine AF1. They have used the B757 VC32 and the Gulfstream VC37 to carry the President at times.

      • How much bigger can the twin jet get? At some stage Boeing will have to go North of 450 seats.

        Not sure if I want to fly in an A380 with 2 x 160+K-Lb engines, and the fan diameter, engines could need their own landing gear?

        Pardon my ignorance (as I am not an engineer). What are the main technical reason/s that instead of using 2 x 150K-Lb engines for example you make a 4 engined aircraft with 2 x 100’s and 2 x 50’s, all 4 is used during take off until cruise altitude has been reached. Use the 2 x 100’s for cruise while the 50’s is on lower power/thrust, idle (or off)?

        (p.s. An 787 at 3-3-3 and 777 at 3-4-3 is not comfy, is that Boeing and/or the airlines fault?).

        • the main reasons for not having different size engines and idling some in flight are weight, drag and maintenance. (hauling around unused engines, maintaining dissimilar engines on the same airframe)
          secondary is ETOPS costs and engine out performance (the only plausible reasons to have more than 2 engines on a current design) your solution has no real benefit over just having 3 of the same engine and idling one in flight in terms of ETOPS and Engine Out, but both suffer from weight, drag (therefore fuel) and maintenance penalties
          larger engines have better SFC and thrust/weight ratios and less parasitic drag relative to 2 smaller engines.
          biggest downside of a twin is the excess max thrust needed to cover engine out situations, however, this is mitigated by running the engines well below their limits in normal takeoff and cruise, while on a 4 engine jet you will have less excess thrust, but all the engines will be working closer to their redlines all the time (even more maintenance cost)

          as to the 3-3-3/3-4-3 that is entirely driven by airlines trying to maximize profit in an environment where almost all customers only looks at price and schedule.

          • Thanks Bilbo. Just wondering how far can the current engines realistically be pushed in physical size and thrust before you must go 4 engines?

            Those on a 777-200LR that I recently flew with are not small, maybe I am just used to the Trent 700’s on the A330-200 which is “stock” aircraft I generally fly with.

          • Anton the 777-200 lr uses ge90’s exclusively which are enormous. The new GE9X’s are even bigger but operate at a lower thrust. Im also curious whether the GE9X could be bumped up to 140,000 lbs or whayever would be required to propel a 747-8 with 2 engines. I cant see it happening but its still a lot more likey than seeing an A380 with just 2 engines.

          • It will be a culture shock to see a 747 with 2 engines, but it could work?

            No ways I get into an 380 with anything less than 4.

          • Requirement is that the long distance AF-1 be 4 engine.

            I guess it helps as the aircraft gets old and unreliable!

      • “Pax like comfy and spacious planes.” Not to pick on you, but pax are voting with their behinds and wallets for large, terribly uncomfortable planes. Sure there are lots of “I’ll never fly in this torture chamber again!” reviews of 3-4-3 seated 777s and 3-3-3 packed 787s. But each year, more big airlines go with the pack’em and stack’em cabins and make money.

        I hate it, and do all I can to avoid such misery. But I have discretionary funds and flexible calendars to my advantage. There hasn’t been a passenger revolt so far, and airlines are now re-segmenting into full three cabin offerings in a cycle reminiscent of a couple decades ago, though with Biz now much better than old First, P.E. close to old First, and Economy worse than old Economy.

        • Unfortunately that’s the way things seems to go, Cathy Pacific also now changing to 3-4-3 on the 777’s.

          Just wondering why airlines have so few economy+ seats, generally 3 or 4 rows and fully booked.

          Fortunately the A330’s is still mostly 2-4-2 and I doubt if someone will easily go 3-4-3 on the 350’s.

          The 2-3-2 economy+ on the 330/40’s are actually very nice from own experience.

  2. Very muddled article, expect better from Leeham.

    The white tails are passenger frames , the 747-8.

    Boeing has been funding leases for the 747-8F so some time and there are no white tails any more.

    • Agreed. The lack of explanation on the Volga-Dnepr part of the article is odd as well. It is correct that only 4 frames have been firmed and delivered as part of the commitment, but that is in line with what that actual commitment was. 20 frames over 7 years. They already have 3 slated for this year, with delivery of the first apparently imminent. It’s fair to question whether or not all 20 will ever be firmed up, but to state “A twice-announced “commitment” from Volga-Dnepr Airlines/Air Bridge Cargo 20 747-8Fs failed to materialize more than four.” is either purposely misleading or just downright incomplete as a thought.

  3. Its the only large freighter that has the swing away nose for loading. If the line can be kept open for 2-3 more years, some more orders might trickle in, even a few 747-8i. A man can dream.

    • Not quite right. The 747-8F is the only freighter with a nose loading door currently in production.

      The only advantage of a nose or rear door is the length of cargo you can load but loading height for 747-8F nose door is restricted to just 2.49 m while the side door can handle cargo up to 3.05 m height. (see PDF page 31&32
      Also special loaders are required at each airport to make use the length advantage.
      Also base width is just 3.56 m at the nose door because the nose is smaller than the rest of the aircraft where two 96 inch width containers could stay side by side.

      For really outsized cargo an An-124 is called.
      Cargo volume: 4,40 m × 6,40 m × 36,50 m (h × w × l)
      The German Army also has several A400M on order they want to sell (or lease).
      Cargo volume: 4,0 m (3,8 m) × 4,0 m × 17,70 m (h × w × l)

      The nose door is not a real big advantage.

      • MHalblaub

        Its not outside in horizontal and vertical, its outsized in length as well as good width.

        You can’t bend things around through the aft door.

        It is useful and that’s why they buy them and not BCF.

    • I missed to mention the A300 Beluga and the A330 Beluga XL with real big front loading doors.

      The 747-400 Dreamlifter on the other side has a swing-tail cargo bay access. Maybe Boeing will convert some 747-8F white tails to some Dreamlifter XL.

      • The current Boeing Dreamlifters must be getting a good workout at a production rate of 12 planes a month . They were converted from used passenger aircraft, so they probably have quite a few miles on them already. Since 787s will be in production for at least 30 years, it seems unlikely that the current Dreamlifters can last that long at this usage rate. It would make sense to replace them with these white tailed 747-8s, which could last the remaining life of the program, and save quite a bit of fuel in the bargain.

        • The 787-10 completed its maiden flight today. Not so many orders yet, but is the one that could kill Airbus in the twin aisle market?!

          • Dreamlifter is unpressurised in the back.

  4. Having looked at airfreighting a very large diesel, I recall that the clearance height of the nose door was in fact less than the rear side loading door, so as long as it is possible to swing the load through 180 degrees, apart from convenience, the nose door became irrelevant.

    • Once there was a freighter which swung away the tail section, not really that useful in the end.
      Canadair CL-44

      USAF was supposed to buy around 200 CL-44 in return for Canada buying the F101 Voodoo ( after the Avro Arrow was cancelled). Pressure from US manufacturers meant that didnt happen, they bought C135s instead.

        • Yep, you can see the outside through the cracks.

          Freight compartment is not pressurized.

          New bulkhead built right behind the cockpit to isolate them from the vastly larger unpressured section.

          Now there is an idea, passengers would get real quiet on a flight.

  5. And the 747-8F is the only one in PRODUCTION not one off modified types.

    UPS has possible 28, not to hang the hat on it but sustains the line for another couple of years.

    Others will buy as they see the need and the possible loss.

    • Hi Transworld,

      Was wondering if an “747” with high wing and to “monster” engines will work?

  6. The A380 and 747 are great planes. The airlines and Boeing have conspired against the big four engined jets.These days for all the slot restrictions, people like multiple flights between two destinations. Which calls for the use of smaller twin engined planes. This is the reason the A380 has bombed. Boeing knew this long ago and did not invest on a super jumbo. Sad it maybe, but airlines are financially stressed and cannot afford costly mistakes. The 748F will continue. The passenger version is dead in the water. The A380 has a bleak future. The 350s and 787s will now be the mainstay of international travel. The 777s too will desappear in time.In the early seventies the 747, 707, Dc8 DC10 and L1011 all had a market. So did the A300 and the 767 and 757. Such variety. Now its a two course meal.

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