Boeing delivers biggest 747 to secret VIP buyer
SEATTLE BOEING Co handed over the first passenger version of its upgraded and extended 747 to a secret VIP customer, who sent the gleaming, all-white plane along to a modification centre to transform it into the “jewel of the sky.” The delivery of the 747-8 Intercontinental - Boeing’s largest and most recognisable commercial airplane - caps a development delay of more than a year.
Boeing, the world’s second- largest plane-maker marked the milestone with an understated ceremony, keeping the media at arm’s length to safeguard the identity of its customer, thought by industry insiders to be the state of Qatar.
“The 747 is the most iconic airplane in the world, and I know customers are going to love what we’ve done to enhance its performance,” Jim Albaugh, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a statement.
“The Intercontinental is fast, efficient and quiet, offering real savings and a great flying experience,” he said.
Boeing, which competes for orders with rival Airbus, has taken 36 orders - nine from non-airline customers - for the aircraft, which lists at $332.9 million. The airplane is more than 12 months behind its initial delivery schedule and some experts say the order book is puny.
The Intercontinental is an elongated, upgraded version of the classic 747, which first flew more than 40 years ago. The 747 was the world’s largest airplane until 2005, when Airbus unveiled its A380.
Only one A380 has been ordered by a wealthy individual, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
“The 747-8 has been slow to take off, and the success of the aircraft is still questionable given so few orders,” said Alex Hamilton, an aerospace analyst and managing director at EarlyBirdCapital.
Boeing had delayed the delivery to 2012 from the fourth quarter of 2011. The company blamed delays in flight testing and the time required to incorporate flighttest driven changes.
A delay of a year or more is not unusual for modern commercial plane launches. Both Airbus’ massive A380 and Boeing’s carbon-composite 787 suffered multi-year delays.
Boeing does not identify VIP customers, but past buyers of customised planes have been multimillionaires and heads of state.
The first airline set to receive the plane is Germany’s Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which has ordered 20. Boeing has not set a delivery date for Lufthansa’s first Intercontinental.
VIP customers for planes as large as the 747 often request extensive modifications such as bedrooms or bathrooms to accommodate the special needs of the primary passengers and their entourages.
These modifications typically are done outside of Boeing, but the company must sign off on the changes.