By: Chris Sloan / Published: June 3, 2016
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the September 2012 issue of Airways. This week marks the 4th Anniversary of the 747-8 I inaugural on June 1, 2012. As of now, over 100 747-8s have been delivered, mostly to freight carriers, with just three operators operating the Intercontinental version: Lufthansa is the largest with 19 aircraft, followed by Korean Air (5 out of 10 ordered) and Air China (7). Instead, High Fuel prices of the era, a soft global economy, and enhanced capabilities of big Twins have doomed the 747-8’s order backlog as a freighter and a passenger carrying airplane, which so far has decreased its production rate to just six aircraft per year.
Flight LH416, from Frankfurt to Washington (Dulles), was under the command of Captain Elmar Boje (LH 747 chief pilot), with Capts Carsten Asmus and Christian Krauss. I was fortunate to be onboard, thus completing my first-flight trifecta, having already flown on the 787 and Airbus A380 inaugurals (Airways, February 2012 & January 2008).
Significantly for Lufthansa, as the airline to introduce the 747 Intercontinental, the German flag carrier also launched the 737 in 1967, the first time a non-US customer had been the first to order a new type of US jetliner. Lufthansa was also the first to order the 747-200F, and when the airline began 747-100 service between Frankfurt and New York-JFK on April 26, 1970, the flight featured the first film to be shown on a 747, Chariots of the Gods.
Preludes to first flights have usually been epic exercises in their own right. But the 747-8 inaugural was remarkable for being unremarkable. Rather than special press flights or seat auctions, Lufthansa opted to put the airplane into regular service, substituting the 747-8 for
a 747-400. Lufthansa did, however, announce bookings through its US Twitter account on Friday, April 27, as well as launching an impressive iPad ‘app’ and micro-site dedicated to its new flagship.
I checked with LH reservations and discovered there was ample seating availability; this would remain thus for a few weeks. The only hitch was that a seat map had not been immediately uploaded in the reservation system, but that would follow. Seats were blocked for approximately 75 Boeing and Lufthansa executives, VIPs, and members of the press, but all other seats were open for general sale. So on May 30, with great anticipation I boarded a LH 747-400 at Miami bound for Frankfurt. As a bonus, this would enable me to compare the older 747 with the Dash 8, as well as the new business class product.
On May 31, the day before the first service, Lufthansa hosted a pre-inaugural party. The 747-8 took center stage at the elaborate curtain-raiser, held in a LH Technik hangar at
Frankfurt. Ironically, there was an A380 parked alongside. In my opinion it is eclipsed by the 747-8 in terms of beauty and profile. Although 11.7ft (3.57m) shorter than the 747,
viewed in close proximity to the latter the A380 appears even smaller than those dimensions suggest, although it is the larger of the pair where passenger capacity, wing span, and cabin width are concerned.
Speaking to Airways at the event, Capt Elmar Boje said that he wasn’t nervous about the next day’s flight, even though the eyes of the airline world would be on him and his crew: “I feel right at home on the 747-8. It’s similar to the 400, but more powerful, direct, and dynamic from a pilot’s point of view. Much like a new car, it just feels tighter.” Asked about conversion training, he explained: “There are no serious differences compared to the 747-400, and if you
drive an Audi A4 and you know how the gearbox works, you don’t have to take a new driving test in order to drive an A6.”
The Dash 8 has a common type rating with the 400, and Lufthansa already has 40 pilots cross-trained to fly both types. Ground school takes three days, followed by two days of differences training, work in the simulator, then four flights under supervision of a training captain before pilots are qualified. The duration is a major selling point for Boeing. Lufthansa’s 747-8 simulator comes on line in October this year, and eventually all its 747 crews will fly both types for optimum crew scheduling.
Maintenance technicians undertake a three-week theoretical differences course, plus one to two weeks of practical training.
At FRA, Lufthansa also showcased its new first class terminal, which it claims is unique for an airline. Similar to the rarefied atmosphere of an upscale fixed base operator catering to personal jets, it offers concierges, 40-year-old Scotch whisky at the bar, a dining room, cigar
lounge, and a fleet of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz cars to convey customers to the airplane.
Check-in for the inaugural was as for any other flight, and there was no commemorative signage until we reached the business class lounge at Gate 16 in Terminal 1. Following a brief ceremony, boarding began via two airbridges. Here, we were handed small plaques;
many passengers were unaware of the historic nature of the flight. Seating capacity on Lufthansa’s 747-8 Intercontinental comprises eight first, 92 business (60 and 32 on lower and upper decks, respectively), and 258 in economy. The first class cabin and two business
class cabins on the lower deck were occupied by revenue passengers and VIPs, but there were a few empty seats in the two main deck economy cabins. The aviation press
was assigned to the 32-seat extended upper deck, the province of first class on Lufthansa 747-400s. A total of 313 passengers was onboard.
LED (light emitting diode) illumination, also a feature of the 787, enhances overall cabin ambiance. However, the lighting program chosen by Lufthansa is not a fullspectrum,
disco-style performance as on the Dreamliner, but set to coincide with different times of day and night so that extreme contrasts between sunlight and darkness are avoided.
As this was a daytime flight, the lighting was very subtle. During boarding, the intensity of illumination is relatively bright, in a warm, slightly yellowish tone; but other levels are used for night-time boarding. For takeoff and landing, the lighting is again slightly modified. On
night flights, ambient lighting is dimmed to a dark-blue ‘cool’ hue at the minimum intensity to allow for moving around the cabin without passengers being disturbed. When a toilet door is opened while the cabin is dark, the lav lights brighten to full strength only after the door is shut from inside. Of course, lighting is adjusted for meal service, and instead of using abrupt on/off and light/dark switches, the cabin illumination has subtle transition modes.
Inaugural action began when D-ABYA—named Brandenburg after the new but delayed Berlin Airport—pushed back at 1007lt. Fraport officials obliged with a water cannon salute.
With the four GEnx-2B67 turbofans at 80% thrust and 156kt showing on the airspeed indicator, at 1024 the 747-8 climbed into partly cloudy skies after a ground roll of 5,400ft (1,650m). Tipping the scales at 377.6t (832,000lb), the airplane used less than half of the
13,123ft (4,000m)-long Runway 25C.
As we became airborne, unlike on many other inaugurals there was no spontaneous applause—only the hum of the turbofans and subtle wind noise against a backdrop of clicking camera shutters. This was welcome, enabling us to sample the quiet takeoff—although not as quiet as the A380. The outward-looking ‘Flyrobic’ cameras, mounted in the flightdeck and under the fuselage, provided excellent vantage points as the world’s
newest wide-body airliner gracefully climbed out.
Capt Boje informed us that our initial cruise altitude would be 32,000ft, stepping up to 36,000ft, with the flight path taking us over northern Germany, the UK, Ireland, and the North Atlantic up to a latitude of 56º N, then making landfall over Newfoundland before tracking
along the coast into Dulles.
Soon afterward the 17-member cabin crew (one more than on a 747-400), led by Chief Purser Birgit Harrison, began serving the first of two meals. I opted for the grilled shrimp with cilantro pecan gremolate, pan-seared chicken with Moroccan scented tomato and
couscous, followed by a Häagen-Dazs dulce de leche ice cream. Onboard hospitality included a stream of souvenirs, including luggage tags, amenity kits, and a 747-8 Intercontinental pin.
Although this was the first 747-8 flight with nearly a full load, the cabin crew remarked that it had been a seamless transition, having spent only half a day of training on the actual aircraft. One novel feature for them is the mini-elevator to transport food and drinks to the upper deck, because catering is not loaded directly onto that level.
As I roamed the cabins, everyone seemed impressed. First class passengers were most effusive in their praise, their cabin claimed by Boeing and Lufthansa as the world’s quietest, with extra insulation in the curtains, side panels, and floor.
Another ‘cool’ feature in first class is the electrically-controlled window shades that raise and lower like power windows in a car. The Dreamliner’s enlarged electronically tinting windows are not part of the 747-8 package. Lufthansa’s first class décor, introduced on the A380, is understated but elegant. Unlike both Singapore Airlines and Emirates, Lufthansa features open cabin architecture, not the enclosed suite approach. An unexpected ‘wow factor’ is provided by the bathrooms, which have a separate toilet and sink area. Among the most elegant lavs in the sky, these toilets boast the famous ‘loo with a view’ window, similar to the
type on the 787.
The only shortcoming in comparison to the airline’s 747-400 is that LH’s new SkyNet Wi-Fi product is currently not offered on the Dash 8. It will be incorporated with the sixth 747-8 delivery in 2013, while 90% of Lufthansa’s long-haul fleet will have broadband connectivity by the end of 2012.
In business class, the PearsonLloyd-designed, B/E Aerospace-manufactured lie-flat seats are very comfortable, with plenty of ergonomic touches and ample storage space. Constructed from lightweight titanium, aluminum, and carbon-fiber, seat covers have virgin wool fabric, and armrests upholstered in leather. Another major improvement over previous types is the new textures and finishes, moving from blue/yellow to gray/yellow. At first glance, the seats appear narrow and rather public, but they really excel in sleep mode when extended to a fully-flat length of 6.5ft (1.89m). The previous business seats were narrower and featured the much-criticized angled bed, so there is significant improvement. A fixed ottoman built into the front console can be used as a footrest or part of the bed when it is flat.
The ‘flying V’ seating layout creates an airy, sociable feel, as the seats face inward at a slight angle, giving passengers more space in the head and shoulder areas. As most business class customers travel alone, it may be expected that this would detract from privacy, but this certainly isn’t so in practice. The IFE screen size has increased from 10.4in (26cm) to 15in (38cm); however, the previous business seats did have a massage function that I missed on the 747-8.
In economy, the Recaro ten-abreast seats with their firm seating were relatively comfortable, although pitch is unchanged from the Dash 400. Thinner than before to save weight, the latest seats have the magazine pocket relocated almost to the top of the seatback, giving the
impression of more pitch. Also contributing to these chairs’ greater comfort, the seat pan moves forward in the recline mode. And while Lufthansa has added power outlets, this is still economy class.
The IFE package is an evolution of the Panasonic X2 system introduced on the A380, but it did seem more responsive. The most noticeable feature besides the two aforementioned cameras is the ‘Niceview’, or moving map display. Presenting a 3D representation of the aircraft, it is fully interactive, allowing zooming down to the location below. On offer are hundreds of video options, 30 radio channels, 200 CDs, games, audio books, and even Berlitz
As we approached the jet stream over Newfoundland, light turbulence was encountered. This provided an opportunity to watch the Intercontinental’s 787-type raked wings flex while the gust suppression technology did its work. Even with the occasional rough air, the airplane remained very stable. Informally, a couple of crewmembers mused that the 747-8 wing is stiffer than that of the 400 and therefore the new airplane doesn’t ride quite as smoothly as its predecessor.
At this point, midway through the flight while cruising at Mach 0.843 at FL360 with a 20kt headwind, Capt Boje reported a total fuel burn of 9.6t/hr, with a groundspeed of 479kt.
During an in-flight press briefing, Elizabeth Lund, manager of the 747 program, revealed that a performance improvement package with updated GEnx-2B engines, a refined flight management computer, and activated tail fuel tanks will be tested in 2013 and be introduced in 2014 by Lufthansa’s 11th 747-8. The PIP, which will also include structural revisions to reduce weight, will bring the 747-8 “very close” to original customer guarantees.
Lufthansa Group CEO Dr Christoph Franz spoke in glowing terms of the 747-8 and how it is a key element in the airline’s quest for greater fuel efficiency. He revealed that Delhi and Bangalore would be the 747-8’s next destinations as four more airplanes come online this year, with Chicago and Los Angeles to follow. The 747-8 will operate five to six days per week to Washington for the foreseeable future, because of the relatively small fleet size, which will increase to 20 by 2015.
Franz predicted that others are likely to order the 747-8 when they see how well it fills the gap between the A380 and 777-300ER/A340-600, especially in premium markets. “The reason airlines haven’t focused on the 747-8 is because the 787 and A380 attracted so much attention, but this will change as they see the data. Our goal is for Lufthansa to be a ‘three-liter fleet’ (three liters of fuel burned for 100 passenger-kilometers). The 747-8
serves that purpose.”
Nico Buchholz, Lufthansa executive VP, considered by some as the ‘father of the 747-8’, having first sketched the specs on a napkin, compared the 747 to the Porsche 911 in terms of iconic status. According to Buchholz, the Intercontinental, like that long-lived, rear-engine sports car from Stuttgart, has always had a classic look, but both are completely different than their predecessors of 40 years ago.
Echoing Boeing’s assertion that the Dash 8 is effectively a new airplane, Buchholz admitted that though the new 747’s gestation was a trying experience at times, he felt very pleased that the aircraft performs as well as and meets the expectations he had set six years ago
when Lufthansa became launch customer. He confirmed that though the early aircraft are slightly overweight, fuel consumption is indeed reduced from the Dash 400 by double digits, and the noise footprint is 30% lower, as advertised. However, there is room for improvement:
“We need the flightdeck and cabin to be quieter. The A380 is a bit quieter, but the two aircraft are basically a wash. Still, we need the 747-8 to be lighter. We’re pleased, we’re not done, but we’ll get there.”
Over the Hudson Valley, New York, at 1132EST we began a gradual descent through layers of cloud. That was when Lufthansa revealed another surprise, with passengers in all classes served custom-made cake decorated with a model of the 747 on a runway.
At 1222EST, LH416 touched down on Runway 19C at Dulles at a weight of around 269t (592,000lb), which meant it had burned some 80t (176,000lb) of fuel during the 7hr 58min flight. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority greeted the newest 747 with its second water cannon salute for this trip. At 1232, the airplane blocked on, writing yet another page in the annals of commercial aviation history.
Upon arrival, Capt Asmus praised the 747-8: “We know and love this ’plane already. The Dash 8 has made an already great ’plane, the Dash 400, significantly better.” That assessment of ‘The New Queen of the Skies for the 21st Century’ perfectly summed up my feelings and those of many of my fellow-passengers. Long live the Queen!
Chris Sloan is founder of AirwaysNews.com and a veteran reporter and aviation expert with a keen historical bent and an extensive collection of aviation memorabilia and photos. In early February 2003, he created Airchive.com. Contact him at email@example.com
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