Boeing Wins 747-8 Freighter Approval After Two-Year Delay

Boeing Co. (BA)’s new 747-8 freighter won certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to enter commercial service, capping a two-year, $2.04 billion delay for the company’s biggest plane ever.

Luxembourg’s Cargolux Airlines International SA will receive the first of the jumbo jets early next month, Boeing said today in a statement. The European Aviation Safety Agency also gave its approval to the new plane, Boeing said.

Flight tests ran 18 months as Boeing worked through design changes made to stretch the iconic hump and wings and add new engines. When development began in 2005, first delivery was targeted for 2009’s third quarter. Engineers were then diverted to the even-later 787 Dreamliner, which set back work on the jumbo jet and forced Boeing to log the additional costs.

Boeing expects FAA approval of the 787 next week, with a ceremony set for Aug. 26, said a person familiar with the matter who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. That plane, the world’s first composite-plastic airliner, finished flight tests Aug. 13.

Trials continue on the 747-8 Intercontinental passenger model as crews test different systems than on the freighter, including climate control and airflow balancing, Todd Zarfos, the chief engineer for the 747, said today on a conference call.

VIP, Lufthansa

The first VIP 747-8 Intercontinental will be delivered by the end of this year, Zarfos said. The plane is due to begin commercial service in early 2012 with Deutsche Lufthansa AG. (LHA)

The Intercontinental’s testing is benefiting from the freighter trials, as engineers resolved issues that included flutter in the wings and buffeting around the wheel wells. The functionality of the new flight-management computer on both models had to be scaled back to avoid further delays, with a software upgrade planned later.

Zarfos said the FAA should be able to catch up on airport inspections stalled during the agency’s partial shutdown last month, easing concern that the checks wouldn’t be done on time to ensure that U.S. facilities could handle the new plane.

The jet’s wingspan is 224 feet (68 meters) and its fuselage is 250 feet long, 18.3 feet more than the last model, the 747-400, which went out of production in 2009.

The Dreamliner is more than three years behind schedule after Chicago-based Boeing struggled with the new materials and a new production system it developed for the plane that relies more on suppliers. The FAA is reviewing its certification paperwork, and Boeing has said it expects to deliver the first 787 to Japan’s All Nippon Airways Co. next month.

Boeing plans to hand over 25 to 30 Dreamliners and 747-8 jets by December, with the split weighted toward the 747-8. The first U.S. carrier scheduled to receive a new jumbo jet is Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc. (AAWW), which said Aug. 2 that it would get the first of 12 freighters in the fourth quarter.

The 467-seat 747-8 Intercontinental competes with Airbus SAS’s 525-seat A380, which entered service in 2007, while the freighter has no commercial rival. Boeing has announced orders for 114 of the freighters and 56 Intercontinentals, though 20 of those haven’t been signed yet.

To contact the reporter on this story: Susanna Ray in Seattle at sray7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net

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