After months of preparation and two years of delays, Boeing 747-8F launch customer Cargolux renounced delivery of the aircraft three days before the delivery ceremony.
Boeing had planned numerous festivities, including hiring a mystery musical guest, to celebrate Cargolux’s planned September 19 acquisition of the first freighter; the second 747-8F delivery was scheduled September 21.
It was a party put on hold, however. Citing “unresolved contractual issues,” the Luxembourg-based carrier pulled out of the deal after board members expressed concern about the deal. Industry rumblings suggest that that an issue with the 747-8F’s engine was to blame. Other reports indicate that officials from Qatar Airways, which took a 35-percent ownership stake of Cargolux in June, disagreed with contractual terms. Either way, Cargolux’s self-professed “rejection” of the first two of 13 747-8 freighters it ordered is disheartening for Boeing.
To Boeing Vice President of Marketing Randy Tinseth, it was a definite, yet surmountable, setback. “While this is disappointing to all of us here at Boeing, we’re working with Cargolux to resolve the issues,” he wrote in his blog after the cancellation. “They’ve been an incredible partner going back a long way. Two decades ago, they became the first carrier worldwide to operate the 747-400 freighter. It’s only fitting that they became the launch customer of the new 747-8 freighter.”
Cargolux executives seem to be singing a different tune. In addition to suspending all financing, Cargolux officials ordered company representatives stationed in Everett to leave Boeing’s premises. They also haven’t ruled out seeking other options.
“In the event that the issues cannot be resolved in a timely manner, Cargolux will source alternative capacity to fully meet customer demand and expectations ahead of the traditional high season,” a Cargolux spokesman said.
Whether Cargolux and Boeing reach a deal or nix their partnership altogether, Boeing has other concerns surrounding the freighter. Specifically, will other carriers with 747-8Fs on order follow Cargolux’s lead or go ahead with scheduled deliveries? At presstime, only Atlas Air Worldwide has addressed the situation, exercising its right to cancel three of the 12 747-8Fs it ordered in 2006.
Atlas Air officials said the decision was based on production delays and “performance considerations” with the early-model freighters. “As prudent asset managers, terminating the first three aircraft was the right decision for our fleet, our customers and our stockholders,” Atlas Air CEO William Flynn said in a statement. “We expect the remaining 747-8Fs in our order to be better-performing aircraft than those we have terminated.”
Getting the freighter to market has been fraught with adversity. The 747-8F was initially scheduled for delivery in 2009, with Boeing forced to compensate customers for the production delays. Accommodating the 250-foot-long, wide-body aircraft has also been no small task.
Prior to its scheduled arrival, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had to certify airports to house it. Huntsville International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Miami International Airport are among the airports that have been given the green light to accommodate the 747-8F thus far, a FAA spokesman said.
What’s more, the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency had to ensure the aircraft upheld international standards before clearing it for flight. On August 19, Boeing got its much-awaited wish: Both the FAA and EASA awarded Boeing an Amended Type Certificate (ATC) for this aircraft, with the FAA granting the aircraft manufacturer an Amended Production Certificate (APC) as well. Although the ATC and APC are equally important certifications, the former acknowledges that the aircraft complies with design regulations while the latter confirms that Boeing can replicate 747-8s that meet production mandates.
The International Civil Aviation Organization also played a part in readying the freighter for its intended September 19th launch date. Ruling that the 747-8F can fly at the same distances as its predecessor, the 747-400, ICAO came to this decision after numerous wake vortex experts pored over flight test and simulation data. The team of experts, which encompassed personnel from Boeing, the FAA, the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation and the EASA, examined how the 747-8F departed, ascended to cruising altitudes and landed relative to other aircraft.
And the freighter has certainly had plenty of flight experience. Since its maiden voyage on Feb. 8, 2010, the 747-8F has logged more than 3,400 hours and has been flown more than 1,200 times.
Boeing utilized a fleet of five aircraft to perform each flight test, enabling the aircraft manufacturer to collect data necessary for fulfilling the FAA’s more than 1,700 certification requirements.
Boeing President and CEO Jim Albaugh said attaining these certifications was a group effort. “Over the last several years, this team has overcome challenge after challenge,” he said in a statement. “Through their hard work and dedication, they have ensured that the 747, the queen of the skies, will fly for decades to come.”
Suffice it to say that Boeing officials hope the latest snafu with Cargolux is only a temporary blip in the aircraft’s history.