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A month ago, we said the decision by FedEx (FDX) to cancel its orders for the Airbus A380 jumbo jet meant you could stick a fork in it, it was done. That is not to say that it will never be made, just that it is far less likely to earn its manufacturer a reasonable return on the capital invested.

Now, according to BusinessWeek, that seems even more likely.

The Lufthansa board is planning to meet Wednesday and approve the purchase of the 20 Boeing jumbo jets, which are valued at $5 billion at list prices, say people familiar with the negotiations. It would make Lufthansa the launch customer for Boeing’s redesigned and upgraded passenger version of the 747-8, now known as the “Intercontinental.” (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/15/05, “Boeing’s Reborn 747″). Boeing officials declined to comment. Lufthansa officials couldn’t be reached. The sale would be a huge coup for Chicago-based Boeing. It would indicate to airlines that there is a credible competitor to the Airbus A380 super-jumbo, thus diluting the profits Airbus had hoped to make on its big jetliner. Since the launch of the A380, Boeing had offered many passenger variations, but no airlines were willing to buy an aircraft that was first built in 1968. Sales of the 747-400 passenger version had virtually dried up, and industry observers were writing its obituary.

“This is as good as it’s going to get,” says Teal Co. aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia. “Boeing was able to get a European based, dedicated Airbus customer to be the first to endorse its new 747 passenger version. It’s a blow to the Airbus A380.”

[Update: Lufthansa officially approves the purchase of Boeing upgraded 747s.]

We’ve made no secret of our belief that the future of passenger air travel lies in smaller jets flying to smaller cities. The hub and spoke model is outmoded, and large passenger jets are really only well suited for a few major city-pairs. Meanwhile, the freight market that would have helped to defray the costs (because air freight carriers really do need bigger aircraft) seems to remain tightly locked up:

What’s more, chances look even better for Boeing to dominate—if not monopolize—the air-freight market, since there are questions about whether Airbus will even build its freighter version of the A380. Boeing already controls about 90% of the world’s air-freight capacity. Airbus hoped to change that with its A380 freighter. But the program suffered a near-fatal blow recently when Federal Express canceled its order for 10 A380 freighters. Instead, it bought 15 Boeing 777 freighters. “It was huge for us,” said Jim Edgar, Boeing’s director of cargo marketing. “Federal Express is the largest air-cargo carrier in the world. They’re a trend setter, and everybody watches their decision.”

It is truly amazing how quickly Boeing has been able to regain the luster lost after Airbus appeared to win the jumbo jet battle.

BA 1-yr chart:

BA 1-yr chart

Source: Boeing Continues To Succeed at Airbus' Expense