Boeing 747-8 Inaugural Lufthansa AvGeek Friends in Frankfurt
Exactly one month after the May 1, 2012 delivery of Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental to Lufthansa, and 42 1/2 years after the inaugural of the first Boeing 747 (to Pan Am), the 747-8I took to the skies in revenue passenger service. Lufthansa flight 416 under command of Captains Boje (Chief Pilot of LH 747) and Carsten and took to the skies from Frankfurt to Washington, Dulles. I was a passenger on the flight as I had been on the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A380 revenue inaugural flights. This brief trip report is not meant to be an-depth description of the groundbreaking Boeing 747-8I and Lufthansa’s new world class “Flying V” Business Class product. For more details, refer to the Boeing747-8 Intercontinental Delivery gallery here on Airchive.com and my articles in the August and September issues of “Airways” Magazine.The day before the flight on May 31, 2012, Lufthansa hosted a major press and VIP customer event at its Frankfurt Lufthansa Technik base. The 747-8 was on display, along with different kiosks detailing Lufthansa’s new Business Class product which was debuting on the 747-8I, as well as other service classes and feqtures. The event was quite elaborate replete with live musical performances, dance, and very dramatic lighting as the curtain was raised on Boeing’s new “Queen of the Skies”. There was an Airbus A380 in the same hanger, ironically enough. The A380 is an amazing aircraft, but it’s beauty is certainly eclipsed by the 747-8I which was very apparent.Inauguration day was Friday June 1, 2012. Following a brief ceremony in Frankfurt’s Gate 16 Business Class, Lufthansa flight quickly boarded via 2 jet bridges. The excitement was certainly palpable but the event itself was businesslike and efficient. Onboard were 75 VIPS and Press but the majority of the 386 seats were occupied by revenue passengers, many who were unaware of the substance of the event. Most press, including myself, were seated in the 32 seat upper deck with the lower 2 Business Class and 1 First Class cabins completely occupied. The 2 economy cabins did have a scattering of empty seats. Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental seating capacity is 8 First/80 Business/298 economy.As passengers boarded, they were handed small commemorative plaques. Even though I had been on the plane before at the delivery in Seattle and the press event, the night before, seeing the 747-8I filled with passengers was a completely different experienced. The Dreamliner 787 inspired cabin still felt very airy and uncluttered with its enormous overhead binds and arched ceilings. Even though the cross-section of the Jumbo remains unchanged, the Dash 8 felt wider and more airy then the 400. At 250 feet, as the longest Boeing 747 and commercial airliner ever, it did certainly feel longer.The real show began when D-ABYA ,dubbed “Brandenburg” after the new but delayed Burbank Airport, pushed back at 10:07AM. Fraport officials obliged with a water cannon salute, and on-time DLH416 began its take-off roll from runway 25C. With the four GE nx-2B’s running at 80% thrust, the 747-8I lifted into the skies at 156 knots after a 5400 foot roll 10:24AM local time. Unlike many other inaugurals, there was no applause just silence, accompanied by camera shutters. This was welcome so we could sample this very smooth and quiet take-off, nearly as quiet as the Airbus A380. Lufthansa’s 2 IFE cameras mounted in the flight deck and under the fuselage provided additional vantage points as the new Jumbo gracefully climbed into partly cloudy Frankfurt skies.The captain announced our initial cruise of 32,000 feet, stepping up to 36,000 feet taking us over Northern Germany, the UK, Ireland, the North Atlantic up to 56 degrees north, then coming ashore over Newfoundland. The 17 member cabin crew (1 more than a 747-400) led by veteran chief pursor Birgit Harrison, began cheerfully plying us with the first of our 2 delicious meals. I opted for the Grilled Shrimp with Cilantro Pecan Gremolate, Pan-seared Chicken with with Moroccan scented Tomato and Couscous, followed by a Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche Ice Cream. I paired it with a 2009 Columbia Valley Chardonay.Other than the press briefings and cocktail party atmosphere on the Upper “Press” Deck, most of the flight felt conventional in the other 5 cabins, which is a testament to Lufthansa’s 40 year experience with the Boeing 747. In fact, this was the first Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental to boast anywhere close to a full passenger load. The cabin crew remarked that they had only spent a 1/2 day of training on the actual aircraft and that it is a relatively seamless move. We noticed a very smooth, friendly service with 3 flight attendants on the Upper Deck alone. As I roamed the various classes and talked to other passengers, everyone seemed very impressed with First Class passengers particularly impressed with how quiet the plane was. First Class was relocated from the Upper Deck to the nose on the Lower Deck with extra sound insulation added. With First Class only having 8 seats, the 737-700 sized Upper Deck was too large for the top cabin. The current First Class product was introduced on the Airbus A380. Lufthansa First is understated but incredibly elegant. Unlike Singapore and Emirates, Lufthansa embraces an open architecture, not enclosed suite, approach. The lavatory did boat the famous “loo with a view” of the 787 and has very tasteful textures and surfaces. This was an evolutionary, not revolutionary flight experience which again, is a good thing. I personally flew the new Business Class cabin with the lie-flat seats and found it very comfortable with plenty of ergonomic touches and ample storage. The new textures and finishes are a major improvement over the previous configuration. The layout creates a very airy, social feel as the seats face in to each other at slight angle. LH doesn’t offer Premium Economy at this point, but the Economy Seats with their firm seating were relatively comfortable as well, though seat pitch is unchanged from before.As we approached the jet stream over Newfoundland, we did encounter light to moderate chop which provided a wonderful opportunity to watch the Intercontinental’s 787 inspired 224 foot long raked wings flex and gust suppression technology do their thing. Even with the occasional rough air jolts, the 747-8 platform was very stable.On the upper deck, Elizabeth Lund VP of the Boeing 787 program and Lufthansa CEO Dr. Christoph Franz, held 2 press briefings: Lund revealed some key pieces of news. Production of the new 747-8I has now reached its 2 aircraft per month build target. 20 aircraft had been delivered with Lufthansa receiving is 2nd in June. The Performance Improvement Package with its updated FMC (Flight Management Computer), new GE-NX2B engines, and the activation of the range increasing rear tail fuel tanks would be activated by the end of 2013. This would lead to a range increase to the promised 8,000 miles, max take-off rate of 987,000 pounds and increased fuel effciency with a new RNP. She revealed that the aircraft coming off the line beginning 2014 would hit the targets right off the line. Lund commented that she was excited and in awe of what her team had accomplished but compared the flight to planning a party and hoping everything would go well and all the guests will be happy. The Lufthansa Group CEO Dr. Christoph Franz spoke glowingly about the aircraft and how it is a key element in Lufthansa’s quest for additional fuel efficiency. Franz revealed that Singapore and India would be the 747-8 Intercontinental’s next destinations as the 6 due this year came online. The 747-8I will operate 5-6 days per week to D.C. For the foreseeable future due to the small fleet, which will number 20 by 2015. He intimated that he, too expects more orders for the 747-8 I from other airlines when they see the advantages to the gap in the market between the A380 and 777-300ER that only the 747 fills, especially in premium markets. Franz said LH is looking at premium economy again, but at the moment doesn’t want to cannibalize LH’s business class. At 7,000 seat, Lufthansa offers more business class seats than any other airline in the world.I was able to spend a few minutes with Nico Buchholz, EVP of Lufthansa Group Fleet Management. He compared the 747 to the Porsche 911 in being an icon. The 747-8 Intercontinental, like the Porsche 911, has always had an iconic look but both are completely different than their predecessors. He echoes what Boeing says in that the 747-8 is virtually a new aircraft. Though he said it was a trying experience at times, Buchholz felt very pleased that the aircraft performs as well as and meets the expectations he had 6 years ago when Lufthansa became the launch customer. He verified 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.With an hour left in the flight, the flight crew began a second meal service. This was par for the course for this cheerful crew who were constantly making every attempt to feed and hydrate us at every opportunity. At 11:32AM EST, the throttles were slowly eased back over the Hudson Valley, New York and we began our slow gradual descent through various cloud decks as we descended from 36,000 feet. At this point, another surprise in all classes as custom made cakes with a model of the A380 on a runway were served. They were delicious but we felt a bit bad about eating such an aesthetically pleasing piece.At 12:22pm EST, LH 416, touched down on Washington Dulles’ Runway 19C at 149 knots. It was quite amazing to watch the approach on the cockpit camera. For me, this was a first. We slowly taxied to the terminal, where the Washington Airports Authority showered the Queen of the Skies for the 21st Century with it’s second water cannon salute. 7 hours and 58 minutes after departure, LH416 was on blocks at 12:32PM and chocked into history.As the crew emerged from the flight deck, I was able to take the loan picture. Though rushed to make a post-flight press conference, they were quite giddy and pleased to take a few questions and a photo. Captain Carsten, who performed both the take-off and landing, told me this was his first time flying the 747-8 I. By his airmanship and butter landing, I would’ve thought this was his hundredth landing. Carsten praised his conveyance and basically said “we know and love this plane already. The Dash 8 made an already great plane (the Dash 400), better. I flew over to Frankfurt on a Boeing 747-400, which I still love, but agree with Captain Carsten’s assessment of the Dash 8. I have found my new favorite airplane. Most fellow passengers I talked to, agreed.