10 years since the first flight of the Boeing 747-8i

Lufthansa Boeing 747-8i. Photo: © Dylan T

20th March 2021 marks the ten-year anniversary of the first flight of the Boeing 747-8 ‘Intercontinental’, the aircraft manufacturer’s former flagship offering.

The 747-8 was to be the final variant of the category defining Boeing 747 family before its discontinuation was announced in 2020. Initially available in freighter form, the 747-8 Intercontinental is the passenger variant, featuring an extended upper deck for the first time since the -300 model in 1982. The -8 is also the longest passenger aircraft in service, surpassing the Airbus A340-600 before it. However, this record will be handed over to the new largest aircraft in Boeing’s lineup: the 777-9, which is now scheduled to enter airline service in late 2023.

Entering the market as a response to Airbus’ A380 ‘super jumbo’, the 747-8 only really saw success as a freighter, with only 48 orders placed for the -8i passenger type compared to 107 for the -8f freighter. Airbus had initially planned to build an A380 freighter, but cancelled the program early into production of the passenger line. Airbus went on to build 272 A380s – almost double the number of both the combined freighter and passenger variants of the 747-8.

Cargolux was the launch customer for the freighter, which was first to fly, whereas Lufthansa was the first to operate the Intercontinental. It would be one of only three airline operators of the type, alongside Korean Air and Air China, with a handful of other -8i airframes being operated as VIP and governmental transports.

Regardless of the planned discontinuation of production, the 747-8i will go on to replace the 747-200B-based Boeing VC-25A as the new ‘Air Force One’, the aircraft designed to carry the President of the United States, whilst that title is only accurate as the callsign when the President is actually on board. Two unfulfilled orders for Transaero, a Russian passenger airline which went out of business in 2015, were selected to undergo the modifications to become the VC-25B. They will be operated by the 89th Airlift Wing of the United States Air Force, scheduled to be delivered once modifications are complete in 2024.