747-8F: the State of the program

It has now been almost nine years since Boeing officially launched the 747-8. In a departure from the normal evolution of major aircraft programs, Boeing launched the freighter variant, the 747-8F, first, with Cargolux and Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA) signing on as launch customers, with orders for ten and eight freighters, respectively. It wasn’t until a year later that the passenger variant, the 747-8 Intercontinental, was launched with a nineteen-unit order from Lufthansa.
747-8F - the state of the fleet updated for cfnetFirst delivery, to Cargolux, took place in October 2011, and the chart at right shows our best guess at the current state of the 747-8F fleet, including orders, deliveries, aircraft built and awaiting delivery, and aircraft currently in production (both on the final assembly line and in the pre-assembly stage).

We say “best guess” because, as with most commercial aircraft programs, there are uncertainties involved. For example, Boeing shows two freighters ordered by, and delivered to, an unidentified customer. These two were originally built for Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, which exercised its contractual right to not take delivery, and are now flying in Saudia Cargo livery. We choose to show Saudia as the customer, but it may well be that the true customer is another entity and Saudia is only the end user.

And then there are the four “mystery freighters.” Two of them (60117 and 60118) have been built and are sitting at Boeing’s Everett facility, while two are still in the pre-assembly stage. Boeing shows no order for these, but Cargo Facts believes they were built in anticipation of a firm order, which did not materialize. Who was the anticipated customer? Cargo Facts believes, but has not been able to confirm, that it was Asiana Airlines, either directly or through lessor ICBC Financial Leasing Co. But whoever the customer, the freighters are real enough.

There is also the question of how to show what just became AirBridgeCargo’s sixth 747-8F. The freighter was built this year for Cathay Pacific, as that carrier’s fourteenth of the type. But Cathay deferred delivery, reportedly to 2016, the aircraft has been repainted in AirBridge livery, and has just been handed over to AirBridge. There has been no official order from either AirBridge or parent Volga-Dnepr Group, nor any cancellation of Cathay’s order, so we show it in the chart as ordered by Cathay and delivered to AirBridge. Did AirBridge lease it from Cathay? Buy it from Cathay? Was Boeing Capital Corporation involved? We don’t know, but it appears that the handover to AirBridge has been completed, with delivery flight to follow later this week.

As we post this, Boeing’s website shows that the manufacturer has delivered fifty-two 747-8Fs and has taken orders for sixty-seven (following the recent cancellation of two orders by GECAS), leaving a backlog of fifteen. However, in addition to the sixty-seven, there is one unit ordered by, and built for, Atlas Air Worldwide, but not accepted by Atlas. We show that freighter as belonging to Boeing (which painted it in Seattle Seahawks livery when that football team played in last year’s Super Bowl). As mentioned above, there are also four units either built, or in pre-production, for an unacknowledged customer. This raises the orders total to seventy-two.

On the other side of the equation, in addition to the fifty-two shown as delivered on Boeing’s site, there is one just handed over to ABC, and the company has completed production of seven more: one for Cargolux,  three for NCA, plus the above-mentioned one for Atlas and two for the Mystery Customer. Of these, two are scheduled for delivery soon (both to NCA), while five others are stored with no delivery dates announced. Four more are currently in pre-production (one each for Cargolux and Korean Air plus two for the Mystery Customer), leaving Boeing with eight more 747-8Fs in its backlog still not in pre-production.

In addition to the orders for the 747-8 Freighter, Boeing has also booked firm orders for forty-two 747-8s in passenger configuration and nine in Business Jet/VIP configuration. Of these, twenty-four have been delivered, including sixteen in pax configuration (fifteen to Lufthansa and one to China Airlines) and eight in BBJ/VIP configuration.

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