Boeings flagship freighter delayed

STILL smarting from the delays that have plagued the development of its much anticipated B787, Boeing now had to inform its cargo clients that the 747-8 freighter will not be ready next year as planned. The recent strike at the aircraft manufacturer has taken its toll on the timeline for the delivery of the 150-ton plane, pushing the launch date back by some nine months into the third quarter of 2010. Originally Boeing had intended to deliver the first 747-8F in the fourth quarter of next year.
“We are clearly disappointed in what this schedule change means for our customers, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders,” commented Scott Carson, president and chief executive officer of Boeing commercial airplanes. “However, it is the appropriate and prudent decision to ensure a successful programme, and we are committed to working with our customers to mitigate any disruption it causes them.”
 The announcement of the delay came days after management reached agreement with the company’s 27,000 machinists over a new labour contract. The dispute had caused a strike, which lasted 58 days and paralysed much of the engineering work at Boeing. Coming on top of design changes and already stretched engineering resources in the scramble to complete the work on the 787, this proved too much for the timetable to bring the 747-8 to launch.
According to an airline with orders for the 747-8 freighter, the problems were exacerbated by issues in managing suppliers, who were behind schedule without Boeing being aware of this. Now the aircraft maker has placed its own engineers in the facilities of suppliers, to keep tighter control of the schedule.
 Cargolux and Nippon Cargo Airlines, who were due to receive their first 747-8Fs in the fourth quarter of next year, now stand to take delivery of the planes in the third quarter of 2010. Each of the subsequent 747-8s for NCA will now be delivered between four and seven months behind schedule, reported Shawn McWhorter, president for the Americas of the Japanese all-cargo airline. “But Boeing is working with us to work out the exact schedule to minimise the impact,” he added.
Tim Bader, Boeing’s spokesman for the 747-8 programme, said that the company has yet to finalise a detailed revised delivery timetable. While the overall schedule has been pushed back by about nine months, the adjustments in the delivery schedule vary by customer. “We’re working now to see how we can mitigate the impact of the adjustments on our customers and help them with their fleet planning.”
Altogether, Boeing has received 78 orders for the freighter aircraft with a book value of some US$23 billion. In addition, Lufthansa has been the first and so far only carrier, to order the passenger version of the 747-8.
The German airline stands to get the first of its 20 747-8 passenger planes on order in the second quarter of 2011.
As the launch date for the 787 receded ever further into the future, airlines have become increasingly restive about the delays. Carriers with orders for the 747-8 freighter see no cause for concern that their delivery dates could stretch similarly far into the future.
“We are in regular contact with Boeing regarding its revised production and delivery schedules,” commented Michael Steen, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings. “We are scheduled to take delivery of 12 747-8Fs in 2010 and 2011.”
NCA is not alarmed either. “As long as we have our 10 B747-400 freighters, we will be able to absorb the delay without too much impact, especially with the current market slowdown,” remarked McWhorter. Due to the prevailing business climate, NCA recently agreed to lease one of its 747-400 freighters to Cargo B rather than deploy the aircraft in its own network.
“If absolutely necessary, we could wet-lease, but this may be difficult since wet-lease capacity generally wants longer-term contracts, and the efforts to put it in place may be too difficult for such a short time,” McWhorter added.
Bader signalled confidence that further delays to the 747-8 programme, while not entirely impossible, are not very likely. “The work that remains for the programme is well defined,” he stated. “We’re at 95 per cent design release for the freighter.”

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