Back to the Future

Boeing 747-8

The Boeing 747 has inspired passengers and pilots since the late 1960s. The current 747-400 version is as modern as they get, but Lufthansa thought Boeing could do even better. So the German airline pursuaded the US aircraft maker to develop the wide-body 747-8 Intercontinental

Boeing 747-8

The 747-8 has all the advantages of its predecessors, but takes their quality to an even higher level

© Deutsche Lufthansa AG

 “Isn’t she beautiful?” calls Danny from his perch above the jumbo jet. Danny has every reason to be up in the air – he’s a crane operator at the Boeing aircraft manufacturing plant in Everett, Washington, near Seattle. And Danny has every reason to rave as he looks down at a legend reborn, a brand-new 747-8 Intercontinental airliner on the floor of the hangar below him. The Boeing 747 is a phoenix whose powers of renewal are almost magical.

The world’s largest airliner (in 1969) was enthusiastically received by both pilots and passengers when it took off on its maiden flight that year on February 9. The pilots were impressed by the 747’s revolutionary technology, its outstanding flight capabilities and its standard- setting safety features. Airline passengers, however, fell in love with the shape and appearance of the giant jet that could seat twice as many people as any other long-haul aircraft of the day. The feature that elicited this spontaneous outburst of affection was the hump that arched over the main passenger deck and contained the cockpit at the front. Hump? What an unattractive word for the graceful, sweeping silhouette that distinguishes the 747 from every other passenger aircraft in the world.

Lufthansa recognized the jumbo jet’s potential for winning people’s hearts but was even more interested in the new wide-body aircraft’s economic and engineering capacities. Which explains why Lufthansa became the first European airline to operate a Boeing 747 on long-haul flights. In fact, the very first Lufthansa jumbo jet landed at Hamburg Airport on March 30, 1970. Many variations of the Boeing 747 were built in the ensuing years. The 747-400 series represented a huge evolutionary leap, and hundreds of these aircraft, built in 1989, are operating around the world, and this model is also well loved by pilots and passengers alike. But even such a classic cannot escape the platitude that there’s nothing good that cannot be made better. Back in the last century, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) was the driving force on the customer side behind the initial development of the Boeing 747. This time around it was Lufthansa that strongly urged Boeing to develop a brand-new passenger model.

Boeing 747-8

A new giant is born: Lufthansa's first Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is under construction at the Boeing plant in Everett, near Seatlle, Washington

© Deutsche Lufthansa AG

 Nico Buchholz, Executive Vice-President Group Fleet Management at Lufthansa made numerous trips to Everett, near Seattle, to acquaint the aircraft manufacturers with just what Lufthansa was looking for. His powers of persuasion were evidently considerable because the decision was finally made in 2005 to develop the 747-8 Intercontinental. In 2006, Lufthansa became the first airline to order Boeing’s new model and ordered 20 aircraft. In doing so, it has once again positioned itself as a leading innovator in the international aviation industry. And once again,the airline has recognized the technical, economic and, in this case also ecological advantages of the new aircraft.

“The 747-8 is new – and at the same time, not new,” says Nico Buchholz. In other words, it brings to the Lufthansa fleet all the proven advantages of its predecessors but takes quality to an even higher level in response to 21st century expectations.
The Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is 76.3 meters long, 5.6 meters longer than the 747-400, and can seat around 50 additional passengers, but despite its improved performance consumes no more fuel than the 747-400.

Its consumption per passenger per 100 kilometers approaches Lufthansa’s medium-term, three-liter target, and is an excellent achievement economically and ecologically in times of diminishing oil reserves and increased environmental awareness. In addition to having considerably lower operating costs, the new 747-8 reduces carbon emissions by 16 percent. Its wing construction and its GEnx-2B67 engines, newly developed by General Electric, are primarily responsible for its comparatively low fuel consumption. In fact, the US manufacturer’s engines hold a second ecological advantage: Although a powerful force to be reckoned with, they are relatively quiet. The Boeing 747- 8 Intercontinental’s noise emissions lie 30 percent below those of preceding models and its noise footprint, the area affected by noise pollution, is much smaller, too.

The economic and ecological advantages of the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, all of which can be expressed in percentages or absolute figures, are only part of the picture. For Lufthansa, the new plane is also a strategic asset. With a current seat configuration of 386, the new Boeing closes the gap within the Lufthansa fleet between the Airbus A340-600 (which seats up to 306) and the Boeing 747-400 (344 seats) on the one hand, and the Airbus A380-800 (which can each accommodate 526 passengers on long hauls). By operating different aircraft to match the precise capacity required, Lufthansa can respond even more precisely to customer needs. Not that customers particularly think about things like this when they make travel plans. They’re much more interested in an aircraft that’s reliable, safe and comfortable, too.

Boeing 747-8

A giant section of the undercarriage

© Deutsche Lufthansa AG

 The Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental has undergone numerous uncompromising safety and reliability tests. These include extreme flight maneuvers of the kind that would never, under normal circumstances, be carried out on a commercial flight – tests that take an aircraft to the limits of what it’s physically capable of, like landing in a foot of water on a flooded runway. That’s something no Lufthansa passenger has ever had to contend with. The fact that the Boeing 747-8 passed all its tests with flying colors is sure to give passengers a good feeling as they board. This positive impression will be further enhanced by the comfort awaiting them in the cabin. Kent Craver, Regional Director for Passenger Satisfaction and Revenue is Boeing’s man for well-being on board. He knows how important first impressions are and wants airline passengers to feel “immediately welcome” when they come on board. He is also aware that what he and his team have to work with is an adverse starting point: “By the time customers get to our product they’re already in the middle of a bad day, which can overshadow the entire flying experience,” he says.

Nevertheless, passengers will be able to enjoy the same sense of spaciousness that the first-generation Boeing 747 conveyed. Except that new cabin furnishings and carefully positioned lighting will make it even better. The seating in Lufthansa’s 20 new long-haul aircraft is right up there with the best – as will the cabin ventilation, the low noise level and countless other details like the extra-large luggage bins overhead. Danny the crane operator can only dream of such an elevated experience as he sits behind his controls and maneuvers back and forth at dizzying heights. At least his dream might actually become reality. “My wife wants to go to Hawaii on our next vacation, but I’d rather go somewhere that involves the North Atlantic route. That way we might be able to fly with the 747-8.”