Big new jet airliner

Late last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Japan on my last business trip of the summer season.

In Tokyo, I briefed a packed room of more than 20 journalists. We discussed the future of big airplanes in Asia, and talked about Boeing’s newest long-haul airliner, the 747-8 Intercontinental, which can accommodate more than 450 passengers.


Meeting with reporters in Tokyo last month.

Talking about this great airplane is familiar territory for me. Last year, I had the opportunity to brief Japanese media on the 747-8 Freighter. And you may recall that in my previous role at Boeing I was Customers Leader for the 747-8.


Step aboard and into the new entryway for the 747-8 Intercontinental.

One of the things I told the reporters in Tokyo is that large airplanes do not make sense for every airline or geographic market. They inherently carry more economic risk for airlines. The more seats you have to fill, the more “risk” - day in and day out, for every route served by a super-sized airplane.

Plus, passengers tell us they prefer to avoid major hubs and want to fly on more point-to-point routes. They also want more choices – that is, the opportunity to choose a “flight plan” from among more frequent departures and arrivals. With really big planes and lots of seats to fill, point-to-point flying with increased frequency is difficult to do.

But, we’ve also pointed out that a larger plane may make sense for some routes in some markets, and airlines in Asia may find themselves deciding whether or not to utilize them. If they do, then the new Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is a great choice.

Why? First and foremost, by incorporating new engine, wing, system, and material technologies, the 747-8 Intercontinental is extremely efficient and will have the lowest cash operating cost of any long-range airplane.


The 747-8 will incorporate new technologies, and will use less fuel and produce less CO2. The 747-8, is 16% more fuel efficient than the 747-400, and with about 100 fewer seats than the A380, the -8 consumes 11% less fuel per seat than the Airbus offering.

Second, the 747-8 Intercontinental will fit seamlessly into the infrastructure of today’s 747 operators as well as today’s airports.

Third, we’re taking an airplane that passengers absolutely love today in the 747, and making it even better. The new interior of the Intercontinental is inspired (in more than just the “marketing” sense of the word) by the 787 Dreamliner.

And finally, the Intercontinental will be better for the environment – cleaner, quieter, and more fuel efficient – as you can see in the graphic above.

Speaking of the environment, I’m off to Montana to enjoy some outdoors with my family for what I think is a well-deserved holiday. Leavin’ home, out on the road - but this time it’s to recharge the batteries before the always exciting last part of the year.

Comments (26)

G (France):

The 747-8i is unique because it is the only airplane that has a capacity between 400 and 500 seats. This is clearly stated in this 747-8 information page.

When are you going to announce the next 747-8i sales?
It is quite puzzling to see such a small number of 747-8i ordered up to now.

Chris C (South Africa):

As Emirates President, Tim Clark, correctly summed up, the new, phenomenal 747-8I is an “excellent aircraft”. Whilst there’s indeed great anticipation for many more orders for the 467-seat -8I, some critics continue to claim that the airplane is a “flop” due to its sluggish order intake.

Clearly, without even mentioning the outstanding performance capabilities and economics of the new, radically improved 747-400, it can be seen that since the launch of the 747-8I, Airbus has only secured one major new airline for its A380, British Airways, and even that “victory” for Airbus was just too close for their liking...the -8I is indeed a formidable airplane.

I remain firm that if the 747-8I was on offer from the start of the 21st Century, it would have garnered more than 150 additional orders than at present. Further, the -8I will be a big success, and will not only be an ideal 747-400 replacement airplane, but will be a very fuel-efficient and capable airplane that compliments the A380 in certain fleets. The -8I, like the -8F, has a bright future, and no matter what the critics say, the -8 will do just fine in the long run, period!!

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

I've questioned many a time whether this new 747 is the best possible offering in the 400-500 seat market - just to stay honest and unbiased. The numbers are good. General Electric has had nice results so far on the GEnx-2B.

These engines will take the 747 further, faster, higher. Maintenance cost should be significantly lower than the CF-6, says GE Aviation.

There's nothing particularly new in this post. But these are still early days - flights only begin in the first quarter of next year.

Great to see you guys put some effort into sales campaigns in Japan. The 747-8 programme is moving ahead, absorbing new technologies and trends. It's still a viable design.

I can't wait to see the numbers from the testing on the airframe - with its new wings.

Enjoy the time off.

ColinM (London, UK):

Quote ChrisC "Clearly, without even mentioning the outstanding performance capabilities and economics of the new, radically improved 747-400, it can be seen that since the launch of the 747-8I, Airbus has only secured one major new airline for its A380, British Airways, and even that “victory” for Airbus was just too close for their liking...the -8I is indeed a formidable airplane."

Chris, not disputing the merits of the B748I., but your assessment of the BA order is askew. Until the A380 order, BA had ordered ONLY Boeing long range aircraft for over 35 years.

It makes not one difference how close the competition was, and I strongly dispute your assertion that Airbus viewed it a close run contest. The fact is, Airbus stole a blue-chip, Boeing-loyal customer in a hard fought competition that was Boeing's to lose from the outset.
Sometimes the truth is hard to swallow, but I hope lessons were learned and that Boeing go into the next BA RFP far more aggressively and with a genuine will to win.

Steve (Siggenthal Station, Switzerland):

The numerous real advantages of the 747-8i over the A380 are becoming more extensive and clear. In the past it seemed logical to use an A380 for a few high volume Hub locations with severe slot limitations, and as such, BA's choice of the A380 made some sense, mainly due to the Heathrow situation. But as time goes by and fuel prices have risen so much, the ability to absorb, and justify, the lower fuel efficiency, and greater CO2 emissions of the A380, compared to the 747-8i, seems harder and harder to do.

There are also many other cost, efficiency and CO2 emitting reasons to avoid the A380, that don't seem get the attention they maybe should have, if it wasn't for all the media hoopla surrounding the A380. Items such as the environmental impacts of runway and taxiway expansions, dedicated terminal construction, and even the CO2 emitted by the construction of the Airbus, and suppliers, dedicated A380 manufacturing facilities, that it now appears will not build anywhere near the intended volume to sufficiently amortize the construction related CO2 emissions (and cost).

It seems the only reason remaining to buy the A380 is Corporate, or Nationalistic driven ego/bragging rights.

And speaking of cost, it is also becoming clearer, and more likely, with each passing year (and passing Billions in cost and interest), that in the end the A380 will most likely go down in history as the biggest corporate(government?) product mistake/white elephant since Motorola's incredible $6 Billion plus, Iridium satellite phone system blunder. (although Time-Warners $112 Billion AOL purchase blunder record appears safe). With the A380's approximately $18 Billion dollar bill, last we heard, and growing every day, the A380 has surely exceeded the Iridium loss, even in todays dollars. It also appears now that there is no way out of this deep financial hole. With a max capacity of 4 planes per month, and rumors that Airbus is pricing them "at cost", just to get any sales possible, it seems mathematically impossible to even cover the interest on an $18 billion dollar investment principle.

If Boeing had made this record setting mistake, they would very likely be in Bankruptcy by now, or worse.

Eventually, even ego and bragging rights will have to give way, for most users, to cost and environmental pressures, and the 747-8i will be the clear long term winner in large aircraft market.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

I think the 747-8 has the strongest potential in Japan.

ANA and JAL are in a strong position to buy these planes as they both have already ordered the 747-8 cargo.

The two primary airlines ANA and JAL are well established and financially solvent, both airlines have already ordered the 777-300ER and ANA has over forty 737's on the books.

JAL and ANA's 747s are getting old, this is a good opportunity NOW to order the 747-8 Intercontinental, at this time the waiting time will not be very long in comparison to other jetliners, even the now in service A380.

The 747-8I will save a lot of money in the long run and even in the short run. The 747-8I is lighter, 970,000 lbs vs the A380s 1,300,000 lbs, very important when it comes to landing fees and they are high! The lighter 747 also consumes less fuel for the same range.

The 747s slimmer fuselage means lesser drag than the wider A380, this also contributes to better fuel burn as well as less noise and better performance and maneuvering.

Even though the design of the 747 is over forty years old, the 747-8 Intercontinental is a product of this century, the wings as well as the empennage are redesigned, and the engines are brand new. It quieter, cleaner, smarter, faster, higher, and more fuel efficient than any if its competitors.

I am happy to know that Emirates Airlines still has the 747-8I on the table, for the longest time I have believed they have ruled it out like Singapore and Qantas, I hope they order!

Pending on the success of the 747-8I, I could see a stretch 747-9I based on the length of the shelved 747-600X 85m as the 747-8I is roughly the same length as the shelved 747-500X, just an idea and only if the market demands it, I bring this up as typically stretches do well. The 747 is still the queen of the skies!

Congrats on British Airways ten plane order for the 777-300ER and Azerbaijan Airlines order for two 737-900ER and two 767-300ER.

G (France):

The A380 has around 550 seats, the 747-8i has around 450. Both airplanes are efficient and both have a range of around 8,000 nm. The only differentiating feature is the size. It is obvious that the 747-8i does not target the same market as the A380. Either you need A380's capacity or you don't.

Please stop comparing the 747-8i to the A380. It does not make much sense.


The 747-8i is a great plane, of this there can be no doubt. I'm just confused why it only has one airline customer despite having been on sale for nearly 3 years.

Nguyen Hoang, Duc:

Look at Boeing 747-8I. It is newer than A380, contains a lot of advance technique. According to Boeing's calculation, B747-8I is almost better than A380: lower carbondioxide emission, quieter, cleaner, more efficient, lighter... With these conditions, B747-8I can land and take off from most of airport, whether they are hubs or points.

But why so few airlines haven't chosen B747-8I. Because they chose A380. I think the reason of chosing A380 comes from its size and somehow, its efficacy. Up to now, 6 A380 are served for the most crowded routes of the world. Besides, the super-sized airplanes would be a good advertisement for the airlines who have them. In my opinion, Boeing has recently lost market for big airplanes which are used to serve crowded routes (from hubs to hubs) althought B747 has significant history.

Boeing 747-8I is a really good aircraft. Even though its orders are few, I think it will have bright future, especially after Lufthansa uses it. This will be a good chance to demonstrate its advantage to the other airlines. Then, maybe B747-8I will be chosen so much.

(In the other hand, Boeing has a good rebound when launching B787. It adapts to "point-to-point routes" and recent economic condition. We both know, almost 900 aircrafts have been ordered. That is a good illustration for Boeing's succeed).

Greg Magone:

Have fun in Montana! That's my home state, I was born and raised in Whitefish and went to college in Bozeman. Shoot me an e-mail if you're looking for any suggestions on places to go or things to do. It's a great state to visit on vacation!

Neil D. (Everett, WA, USA):

Thanks to Steve (of Switzerland), I learnt more interesting facts regarding the financial blunder of AirBus A380. Without governments monetary backing, the market would have seen EADS sitting in Chapter 11 or Chapter 13.

Randy, enjoy your time off with family.

Ed (Ireland):

I would love to know how Randy arrives at the conclusion that the 747-8I will burn about 8% less fuel per seat than the A380, when the only airline to order both aircraft (Lufthansa) has said that the A380 wll burn about 5% less fuel per seat than the 747-8I.

Chris C (South Africa):

Boeing calculates that on a 6,000nm flight, the fuel burn/seat is 252.1kg. Using Boeing’s figures of a fuel-density of 6,7Ibs/USG, through fairly simple mathematics it can be deduced that a -8I, configured in a Boeing ruled tri-class seating arrangement, and performance envelope, will burn 2,8lts/pax/100km on the 6,000nm range.

Airbus claims for their A380-800, that in an Airbus ruled tri-class arrangement seating 525 pax, the airplane will be as fuel efficient as 2,9lts/pax/100km, therefore, the -8I would 3,5% more fuel efficient/seat. But, if the -8I flies to its maximum range of 8,000nm, fuel consumption/pax decreases to 2,6lts/pax/100km, therefore the -8I will be 11,5% more fuel efficient/seat than the A380, and currently Boeing displays the figure, conservatively, at 11% more fuel efficient per seat.

Lufthansa has hinted at their -8Is being equipped with around 410 seats, or some 57 less than brochure seating for the -8I, and thus have assumed a fuel consumption of 3,5lts/pax/100km. They’ve ALSO raised the brochure value of their A380s fuel burn assumption to 3,3lts/pax/100km. So, yes indeed, the A380 in Lufthansa will be nearly 6% more fuel-efficient/seat than their -8Is. But, the trip costs for their -8Is will be significantly less than the A380s.

Therefore, both the 747-8I and A380 are very efficient, and capable airplanes and both have a unique and niche role to play in the large airplane market. All comparisons of fuel burn/seats between these two great airplanes in fact, are purely academic, as these two airplanes are in two different categories. The 747-8I will be a big success, and the A380 will garner more orders, but the -8I is the lower risk.


Ed, I think what Randy meant is if they continue to use the A380 in their actual seating configuration of about 525 seats per airplane. If they fill both to capacity (i.e. 800 seats for the A380, and about 500 for the B747-8I), then the A380 will have a substantial advantage. Now, the A380 is a big bird to be flown around with less than practical seating arrangement to be a its best economically.

G (France):

To Ed (Ireland)

Maybe you should ask the question to Lufthansa who has the performance figures for both airplanes. If Lufthansa can give us details like cabin configuration for the two airplanes, it would be great.

Saj (London, UK):

"I would love to know how Randy arrives at the conclusion that the 747-8I will burn about 8% less fuel per seat than the A380, when the only airline to order both aircraft (Lufthansa) has said that the A380 wll burn about 5% less fuel per seat than the 747-8I."

By the time the 747-8I enters service in 2010, the already ageing engine design of the A380, coupled with in service degradation will mean that whatever perceived fuel burn advantage the A380 has will all but be negated.

Emirates' own Tim Clark stated by 2012, weight reductions on the A380 would make it more competitive vis a vis the 747-8.

So despite Airbus sinking untold billions of taxpayers money into an all new design, the current A380 STILL just doesn't cut the mustard against the 747 - a design ridiculously and continually mocked by Airbus as a "40 year old" airplane.

With the GEnx-2B, the 747-8I/F will deliver better fuel savings, not least because the entire airplane is lighter than the A380 and will likely not be 6 or more tons overweight at service entry either!

Of course, the GEnx-2B is a derivative of the same powerplant available on the 787, but remember that part of the 787's cost advantage is based on the fuel effiency itself - and in particular these engines have made it viable to further extend the life of the 747.

The A380 will never match the longevity of the 747 family.

Also, Randy doesn't state that the -8I would consume 8% less fuel - under the graphic posted in the entry, it states 11%.

Lufthansa doesn't produce airplanes - Boeing does. I know which I'd give more credence to - afterall, Lufthansa will have little choice but to amend their PR material in favour of the 747-8I.

"The 747-8 is more than 10 percent lighter per seat than the A380 and will consume 11 percent less fuel per passenger than the 555-seat airplane. That translates into a trip-cost reduction of 19 percent and a seat-mile cost reduction of more than 4 percent, compared to the A380. Both the 747-8 Intercontinental and 747-8 Freighter can use the existing infrastructure and ground equipment at most airports worldwide."

Nguyen Hoang, Duc:

To Ed from Ireland:
Up to now, there are only two airlines owning B747-400 and A380. They are Singapore airlines (SIA) and Emirates (UAE). According to a pilot of SIA, A380 burn fuel fewer than B747-400.

But we know, B747-400 is an old airplane which is made of metal, totally. Besides, it doesn't have new wings, new engines... If you want to see the difference between 2 generations, let check it out with youtube. It is really easy for us to figure out.

With this link, you can understand why Randy and Boeing said that B747-8I is more efficient than A380.

Recently, UAE has thought of ordering B747-8I and they would serve for DUX - American east coast route. Boeing 747-8I is an excellent airplane, like Mr. Tim Clark's declaration. But he also wanted, that Boeing could launch a new B747 with longer range than A380. So, that is a new mission for Boeing try to reach. And I wish Boeing has a big deal with UAE.

G (France):

To Chris C (South Africa)

Therefore, both the 747-8I and A380 are very efficient, and capable airplanes and both have a unique and niche role to play in the large airplane market. All comparisons of fuel burn/seats between these two great airplanes in fact, are purely academic, as these two airplanes are in two different categories.


It is all about network and fleet planning. When a route only needs airplanes between 400 and 500 seats then take a 747-8i. If a route needs airplanes bigger than 500 seats then the A380 is the solution.

If you look at the pace air service agreements (a.k.a "Openskies") are signed, the situation of slot constrained airports will change a bit.
From now on, "spill" does not have the same meaning as in the past. Passenger flow can now be redirected from a horribly dense hub to a couple of medium sized hubs.

Dan (France):

The fuel burn per seat comparisons between 747-8I and A380-800 made in this article fail to consider different comfort standards used between the aircraft. This makes any comparison of the two sets of figures completely incorrect - an apples for oranges comparison.

You can see on the Boeing website that 747 cabin layouts have a First Class seat pitched at 60 inches, and a business class seat pitched at 39". Likewise, although there are no pitches printed, it is easy to see from inspection that the first class seats used in the Airbus are full flat beds which are usually pitched around 80 inches. The business class seats are clearly cocoon seats, normally pitched around 60" if not full flat (check out

Effectively, the seat counts being on the 747-8I are from the 1970s, and in no way reflect the reality of current airline configurations. This distortion inflates the number of seats on the 747-8I and therefore produces an unrealistically rosy fuel burn per seat figure.

Chris C (South Africa):

I’m thrilled to read that the phenomenal 747-8F has entered final assembly! There are some great photos of the wing-spar being loaded into the new automated assembly tool here.

keesje (netherlands):

I think it is fair to say the A380 has about 35% more seating capasity. Taking different numbers could lead to misleading per seat cost figures.

Hope to see more 747 passenger orders soon. Maybe ANA?

Capt Bruce C. ( USA):

Without putting too fine a point to it, the vast majority of a new aircraft's efficiency advantage are found in the engines and wing, and they're both new on the 748. the only difference between the newness of 747-8 and the A380 is the 748's use of an old fuselage/tail design, and even those components benefit from incremental improvements like increased use of composites and newer alloys.

That should bring both VLAs within spitting distance of each another in terms of efficiency. On top of that, when you add in structural scaling penalties, like former Boeing engineer Joe Sutter discusses in his book, you handicap the larger aircraft. The benefit of economy of scale is less evident in the A380 because VLAs carry more mass per passenger.

As aircraft are scaled up, they grow heavier out-of-proportion to seat count growth, i.e., a 700 seat aircraft will weigh more per seat than say, a 450 seat aircraft, bolstering Boeing's claim that the 748 will be the mileage champ. The reason aircraft stretches are so successful is that you don't have to scale up the whole plane to get more seats, you get increased efficiency without a proportional weight penalty. The 748 is a stretch, while the A380 is actually a "shrink", overbuilt to handle future stretches, so it carries more heft than strictly necessary for a base model. That's why a shortened A318 loses to a stretched Embraer 195. Will the 748I hit the efficiency sweet spot? Very possible. Would it hit a broader, deeper sweet spot if it also carried the 787's bleedless architecture? With Thomson-style staggered seats to offset an A380's comfort advantage, would a carrier prefer to offer their transpac capacity on 5 weekly flights instead of four? What do you say, JAL? Northwest? Randy?

Rob (Las Vegas, NV, USA):

I think the debate of which is better, A380 or B747-8I should be put aside until the B747-8 is in service. Let the passenger decide in term of comfort level, convenience, ease of use, design, noise, and most important of all, ticket price due to which plane has the lower cost to operate. The 777 was rated as the passenger choice when it was put in service, and over the years, additional orders due to passenger choice and operation efficiency. Let the airline and passenger decide what is best!

Rob (Las Vegas, NV, USA):

I am hoping that Air France, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Dragon Air, and Thai would order some 747-8I. They are all current operators with exceptional service, except Dragon Air, they only have the freight version.

Alessandro (Sweden):

Delivery time is the main thing, when will the B748i fly and when will a new customer be able to get it?

I think serious delays are unannounced, due to the major problems at the B787 line which meant that resources has been taken from other programmes to help them out.

A380 is flying but delivery time is much slower than
Airbus hoped for.

As for the A380 being a financial blunder, well, 9 are flying for customers and I guess we know in 40 years time, since possibilities of a stretched version are there.

Alexander Vasolla (Toronto, Ontario, Canada):

The 747 has been a fine aircraft for 40 years due to its great design and market niche.

The efficiency per seat will depend on airline seat configuration as well as costs associated with weight, which it already has ground over the A380.

Design wise, they don't compare. The A380 is, and ugly design, something like a flying brick. The 747-8i and 8F, like all previous versions, are elegant, streamlined, angular aircraft with a ready audience. It is still the world most recognizable airplane, and no amount of bragging rights from Airbus can counter that in the long run.
Airbus' constant old joke that the basic fuselage design is that of a 40 year old aircraft is no insult, its an amazing design that requires no changes.

Here the improvements where needed for the previous 747 they were made to outstanding standards, with regards to airflow, engine performance, fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions reduction.
The marketing campaign of Airbus is the only reason for the number of orders in comparison to the numbers for the 747-8I. Time will tell, and the winds shift in favor of the long efficient haul.

As those 9 mammoths cavort about the skies The new 747s are developing in their cocoon in Everett.
Time will tell, the market will tell. Most importantly, the performance and appeal of the airplanes will tell. Like the 777.

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