The replacements

Something I talked a lot about in my previous role as Customers Leader for the 747-8 program was the replacement cycle for passenger airplanes in the 400-500 seat category.

And since earlier here in the blog we talked about the timing for 200-400 seat airplanes, I figured it makes sense to continue the story with the market for the larger twin-aisles.

For many years, the 747 was the only long-range airplane. As a result, many 747s were ordered for their range capability, rather than their seating capacity. At the time, no other long-range choices were available. Basically, before 1993, the only option for long-haul was the 747, regardless of what the passenger demand happened to be on a route.


Today there are a number of types of commercial jetliners that can fly long-haul routes - and they can do it efficiently at smaller seat-counts than the 747. This allows airlines to better match capacity to demand on those routes.

For instance, in the last few years, part of the success of the 777 family can be attributed to airlines having the ability to “right-size” their fleets. And there are now offerings of several models of long-range airplanes from 200 to more than 500 seats. So the 747-8 market is truly going to be for those who need capacity of around 400-500 seats, in addition to long-range.

Consequently, the near-term demand for growth of 747-and-larger size passenger airplanes is limited. All the 747s that were being used only for their range capability are now being reallocated for segments that truly need 400-500 seat capacities.

Which brings us to what we’ll call the “replacement cycle.”

The 400-500 seat passenger airplane market is different from what you see in other categories. This segment is nearly all replacement. We will see some shift in terms of where these airplanes are flown and by whom, but no real growth.

The growth we do talk about in our overall airplanes forecast will be accommodated by more frequencies and nonstops – as I mentioned, by medium-sized twin-aisle airplanes such as the 787 and 777.


Taking a look at this chart, you see why the 747-8 Intercontinental is timed perfectly for the replacement cycle in the 400-500 seat category.

What you see above is that a fair number of 747-400s will be reaching retirement age starting at the beginning of the next decade – just as the 747-8 Intercontinental enters service – with another spike in retirements later in the following decade.

The 747-8 is designed to meet these replacement needs. Customers told us they wanted a slightly larger version of the 747 – with new technology to improve efficiency and noise performance, while still working within the airport infrastructure developed for the existing 747s.

About 60% of the 747 replacement market is in the Asia-Pacific region. Another 30% is in Europe, and the remaining 10% is in North America and the rest of the world.

Launch customer Lufthansa has ordered 20 747-8 Intercontinentals. And people have been asking when we can expect the next order for the Intercontinental. Well, while we don’t talk about orders yet to come, I can say that we are talking right now with a number of other airlines about their replacement needs.

I may be biased, but I think this is an airplane that is going to fit in perfectly with existing fleets around the world.

Comments (15)

Jeffrey (Homosassa, Florida, United States):

Do you personally believe we will see an order for the 747-8I (passenger model) this year? It appears to be a wonderful airplane I wonder why its not been sold better to date.

Saj (London, UK):

For a second there, I thought Randy B was back!

Great article Randy T, pleasure to read. I couldnt help but notice your omission of the A380. While its right that it was avoided, due in part because it will never be considered by airlines as a like-for-like replacement, and its extreme bulk is limited to 30-odd airports- the 747-8 will be able to fit in perfectly to the 200+ airports served by the fleet today.

Even on my own blog here:

Ive discussed some of the merits of such large airplanes, given the inherent 777 success, which will be further expanded with the 787 family.

British Airways is studying the 747-8I extremely closely, and has covered their fleet replacement too in great depth.

The 747-8I will do a far better job at mass transport over longer ranges than the A380. The customer base may be small, but the type has only been around 18 months, while in almost a decade, the A380 is losing, not gaining customers.

Tim (USA):

Thank you for the insight on the market of future 747-8I ( Pax ) airliners, so ? the only orders that will come for the 747-8I is replacements ? and not new needs ?

I asked Randy 1.0 a few months back about the wings on the 747-8I Pax, in the video that shows it morphing from the 747-400 to the 747-8I it looks like the wing sweep is tweeked and swept back a few more degrees, or is that a optical illusion of the video ?

What exactly is wing twist ? is it the flexing of the wing in relation to the fuselage ?
Well, regardless of how well the 747-8I( Pax ) is going to turn out, the 747-8F will do great for decades to come.

wesley creed (arab,AL, USA):

Randy 2.0,

Great article! You certainly wear the mantle well. As an engineer, I like facts and you've provided what we need.

Go Boeing! Long live the 747I! I have a great slide of the first 747 LAX landing as it flew over, all wheels!

G (France):

Don't you think that it is safe to say that some 744s will be replaced by slightly smaller airplanes like the 777-300ER and others will be replaced by slightly larger airplanes like the 747-8i?

Bradley Van Gorder (Richfield, MN):

I doubt you want to talk too much about Airbus, but what are the reasons someone would buy a 747-8 vs. an A380? Why wouldn't someone say (perhaps naively), heck, if we're going to go to 467 seats, why not just go to 555? (I know there's probably a dozen reasons why not, I'd just like to hear them from the experts.)

Also, how many airports do you think are eventually going to retrofit everything to be able to handle an A380? That seems like one of the biggest road blocks to me.

Thanks! Great to know you're continuing this blog.

Kristopher (Managua, Nicaragua):

I was reading a study by the firm Morgan-Stanley about the possibilities of both the B748i and A380. In both, the best and worst scenario for Airbus, the A380 will outsell the B748i. They mention many factors, but I encourage you (audience) to read the full report.

1. The B748i is based in old technology (it doesn't even have fly-by-wire), and more airliners are looking for new tech airplanes (B787; the A320's fly-by-wire has passed the 5,000 mark).

2. Population's growth in already congested cities is going higher than ever. The A380 will provide much-needed relief to pairing congested cities (and congested airports) with better operating economics. [Fith Rating Report]

3. On the downside the A380 doesn't have the breakthrough technology we're seeing on the new B787 and the A350XWB, which mean that the A380 is going to be outdated by the year 2025 (with the introduction of a new 777 and/or a "new" 747 by Boeing)

Here are the links:


The morgan stanley report has some serious errors in it. More over the "old tech" problem, isn't a problem, its an advantage. When you only improve the things that NEED improving then you keep commonality. Keeping commonality makes for far more seamless integration of new planes into your current fleet. So keeping commonality saves the airline alot of money as it reduces the up-front cost of an aircraft, reduces training costs, and reduces repair and MX costs

You also might note that they failed to note that the A380 sets a new standard for how BAD a frieghter can be. Its highly inefficent in operation compared to anything else you can buy new, AND it requires massive upgrades to your infrastructre to accomidate it. The two carriers that ordered it FedEX and UPS both were what the A380F was "optimized" for if you don't mind the abuse of the word "optimized". Yet both walked away from it and bought Boeings in a DIFFERENT size class just to show how quick and easy it is for the only two A380F customers to get something that works well for them.

Last I would have you note that since the launch of the A380 till now the 747 has outsold the A380. There might be a short term change in this soon as a few airlines grab A380 options, but it remains that counting the 747 out because its old is a serious mistake.

Saj (London, UK):

Kristopher : Your analysis is flawed in several ways.
First, since the A380 launch in 2000, there have been more 747 sales than A380 sales. Regardless of whether its pax or freighter.

Second, the 747-8 has far newer engines than the decade old designed engines on the gas guzzling A380. A fact you conveniently overlook. It doesnt need FBW to sell. Look at the 737- still handsomely outselling the A320 family, which is a 20 year old, dated design with no new features since its launch.

Third,population growth in cities means more smaller airports are opening up point-to-point routes- why else would Airbus validate Boeings correct market strategy by ditching its awful A340 to have a long range A350 twin, that no one wants? Its a decade late, behind the 787 EIS, provides no "leap" over the 777, and has no definitive engine powering any variant. The 787 and 777 sales tells you all you need to know how well Airbus' market strategy is- poor.

Reading out of date and factually incorrect lopsided biased "reports" are no substitute for the real world- the real world which demands the 787, 777 and 747-8: not the pipedream A350 or 30 airport restricted overweight A380, or gas guzzling A340!

Chris C (South Africa):

The Boeing 747-8 Family is the Shape of the Future, Period. The phenomenally advanced, efficient and capable –8 Intercontinental will no doubt be a perfect fit for any airline wanting a true 747-400 replacement with the highest reward and lowest risk approach. What the competitor seems to fail to realise is that even though the 747-8 externally looks much like any other 747, beneath the skin the 747-8 is an all-new airliner, that is doing the near impossible and giving the airlines everything they wanted from a radically improved 747, and perhaps a bit more as well! With the phenomenal 747-8 family, Boeing and the Customers could not be in any better position to face the challenges of the 400 plus seat and large freighter markets of the 21st Century.

Komshiki (Brisbane, Australia):

Randy-8, I think there have been a lot of concerns and speculations over the sales of 747-8. People (not only those who read this blog, but also from other sites on the internet) are wondering why airlines do not seem to have a strong demand on the 747-8. Is it because they want an airplane which is "newer than new"? Or is it because the demand in 400-500 seats market is really small because the trend has shift toward "point-to-point"? Well, Randy-8, I hope you are reading this and perhaps you can clarify this issue a bit.

Jeroen (Hoofddorp, The Netherlands):

I do not agree with most of you concerning the viability of the A350. My first thought too was that is would be, upon introduction, outdated immediately, but at a closer look, this is not the case. There's two reasons for it.
1) You probably won't agree all, but Airbus always has had a technological advantage over Boeing. This might come in handy when introducing the A350. It will not be more technological advanced, but it will not be less than the 787. I agree, Airbus still has a lot of homework to do, before it can even be built, but don't underestimate them.
2) Many people tend to forget that Airbus is aiming on 3 aircraft with their A350, the 767 / 777 / 787! If they sell it right, this will provide a very extensive cost advantage over the complete Boeing family. More aircraft means more trained personnel, more maintenance etc. etc. I agree on the fact that they have to sell it right and that it has to be a success, but it is certainly the right strategy! Copying Boeing in strategy will not provide them with any advance compared to Boeing, more likely it will just put them even more in the background. They take a risk, a well considered risk, but who doesn't risk, doesn't win. Time will prove, who was right, but I can assure you that in 20 or 30 years, Boeing and Airbus still will make their Aircraft. They simply need each other to be able to develop new airplanes and technologies.

Anthony (Seattle, WA):

If Airbus is trying to take on three Boeing aircraft with the A350 as stated above, this isn't a strategic plan, it's a desperate one.

Airbus realizes that it doesn't have the resources to develop a family of aircraft to counter Boeing's products one to one, so Airbus is going to try to market a "one size fits all" A350. Airbus hasn't chosen this strategy because it's the "right" one - it is following this strategy because it doesn't have any other choice.

Airbus *used* to have a technological advantage over Boeing, but that's clearly not the case any longer. Airbus now finds itself behind on technology, behind on product offerings, behind on orders, behind on operational effectiveness and lacking the strong, decisive leadership needed to return itself to strength over the long term.

I remember when Boeing was the company having problems, but Boeing didn't have two bosses contending with the meddlesome input of politicians fighting to maintain a multinational bureaucracy, factories and staffing levels above what is needed to do the job.

A little bit of trouble at Airbus is good for Boeing, but the huge amount of trouble Airbus is in right now isn't good for anybody.

G (France):

As far as 787 and A350 are concerned, why don't we just wait and see? The market will decide which one is the correct strategy. In my humble opinion, the indicators are quite easy to understand. The first indicator is the sales and the second one is the operating margin. The one who will have made the right choice is the one who achieves a reasonable sales volume and who will make a confortable margin. The one who makes the wrong strategy will have to live with meagre operating margins during years.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

Boeing has gone a long way from the eighties when the
only long range airliner for Boeing was the B747-400 and all the other smaller long range airliners such
as the 747SP and the DC-8-62 require very high ticket prices and long thin routes where almost sure
money loosers

Boeing's divercity of long range airliners in the modern times such as the 747-8I,777-200ER/300ER, and
the 787 series shows the options that airlines have
then it comes to seating capacity and long range capability. All of the options that Boeing has for the consumers has Airbus on the defensive when it comes to the A350 and all the alterations that they
had to do folowing the completed design of the 787 not to mention the delays. The A380 for most large airlines is to big,to heavy,and to expensive $300+
million, and to large for most 747 capable airports.

The future can only be brighter for Boeing as projects like the Y3 and the 787-9/10 and possible 11
series make it to the market as these jets will be more effeciant than the ones today and will add to the variaty of the long range aircraft that
are available from Boeing.

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