Boeing’s 777F is the biggest rival for the 747-8F

Boeing is Boeing’s greatest rival, seen by the fate of the 747-8F that is pushed aside by its smaller sister 777F. The four-engine all-cargo aircraft faces the fate of becoming a run-out version should demand remain sluggish.

Boeing’s flagship 747-8F is facing an uncertain future  -  courtesy Boeing
Boeing’s flagship 747-8F is facing an uncertain future - courtesy Boeing

It wasn’t good news presented by Boeing these days, although widely expected by analysts and aviation experts since months: It’s once proud flagship, the large 747-8 freighter has become a shelf warmer forcing the company to sharply cut down the production rate to prevent it disappearing altogether from the line. According to the company’s announcement, the production rate of their super transporter 747-8F will be cut down from twelve to six units per year as of September. Dwindling sales will lead to revenue declines of US$569 million in the fourth quarter of 2016. 
 
Little market demand
In a statement, Boeing manager Ray Connor justified his firm’s move by saying that the air cargo market has stalled in recent months after a recovery that started in 2013. “This has slowed demand for our 747-8 freighter.”  The plane maker confirmed that the costs of assembling the aircraft were outstripping sales, leading to an imbalance in the region of US$1 billion.
With only very limited orders standing in the manufacturer’s books for both versions, the 747-8 freighter and its passenger sister, market observers don’t exclude any longer that Boeing might stop the production of the four-engine jetliner for good or at least mothballing it until market demand maybe picks up again one day.
 
Twin-engine jets are winning the race
Ironically, the 747-8 freighter’s biggest rival is Boeing’s bestseller B777F, a real workhorse that is by far the most popular all-cargo aircraft operated on long-haul sectors by airlines today. 
In  comparison to the larger 747-8F, which is capable of uplifting up to 140 tons per flight, its smaller sister B777F is more fuel efficient and very versatile since its maximum loading capacity of 102 tons minimizes the risks of underutilization by airlines as well as poor load factors on many routes.  
 
Airbus is no better off
It might give Boeing some comfort that arch rival Airbus is in a similar squeeze caused by poor demand for their flagship, the A380. In the coming years the production rate of currently 27 aircraft per year might go down to 20 A380s, indicated Airbus Chief Fabrice Brégier during a visit to the plane manufacturer’s Hamburg plant. However, with firm orders for another 140 A380s Airbus has still substantial reserves for the ongoing production of its doubledecker or a more fuel-efficient successor that is increasingly discussed these days.
As in the case of Boeing, the main problem the European plane maker’s A380’s is facing comes from inside the company: the A350 and the A330neo that are setting new standards in efficiency and comfort. For both models, customers placed orders exceeding 2,500 units. Airbus expects more to come this year, which will please Brégier and his sales force but is no consolation for the fading A380 program, despite today’s announcement (25 January) by the Iranian rulers to order eight of them.  

Heiner Siegmund

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