Things are going pretty well for the largest airplane manufacturers right now. But even with incredible order backlogs at Boeing and Airbus, their largest planes still tend to be one of the weakest sellers. David H alerted me to an article stating that Boeing announced they were lowering the production rate for the 747-8 to one plane every two months later this year. This is a pretty horribly kept secret especially given the lack of orders the plane has received over the past few years. But, it does bring up the question as to whether one of the most recognizable planes is destined to go away.
I was asked that question last year by Fox News. At the time, my opinion was that the 747-8 had a brighter outlook than the Airbus A380. In a surprise even to Boeing execs, the freighter version of the -8 has outsold the “i” flown by folks like Lufthansa for passenger traffic.
Boeing did “win” an order for 747-8s to replace the existing Air Force One planes the President flies on, but that wasn’t a huge surprise.
Airways News actually published an update today of all the existing 747-8 orders, which total less than 20 firm orders with the potential for a few more. I’m a little skeptical that the 5 orders for the 7478i from Korean are real, but we’ll see.
What does all this mean for the future of the really big planes? To some degree, the 747 is a victim of Boeing’s success. Twin-engine planes now have the range of 4-engine planes (a big reason why Airbus stopped making the A340). Fewer engines means more fuel efficiency and fewer routes that the 747 could dominate like it did back in the days of Pan Am.
While the freight version of the 747-8 has been a huge boon for Boeing, the price to move goods via the ocean are down due to slack demand in the face of increased shipping vessel capacity.
I can recall a flight a few years ago where I got to cross two things off my bucket list on the same flight. I got to sit in the window seat at the very front of a Boeing 747-400 (where you can actually see a bit in front of you due to the curvature of the plane nose) and sit upstairs on a 744. I’ve also enjoyed the upper deck of the 7478i with my daughter. I’ve enjoyed my flights on this grand old bird and I’m sure they’ll fly for many more years. But, I don’t expect a glut of demand for new 747-8i passenger aircraft anytime soon.