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Summary

  • Last chance for the Boeing 747-8I.
  • Boeing 747-8I and Airbus A380 seem to have similar fuel efficiencies.
  • Airbus being forced to come up with an A380 PIP.

In my previous article I wrote that there probably would be no role for the Boeing 747-8I in the battle of the jumbos. However, recent talks between Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Emirates spark a little bit of hope. Boeing and Emirates have opened up talks about the purchase of the 747-8I. Boeing is desperately looking for customers for the Boeing 747-8I, even buying back the older Boeing 747-400 to sell the newer Boeing 747-8I.

On the other hand Emirates, the biggest customer of the Airbus (OTCPK:EADSF) A380, is looking for a more fuel efficient Airbus A380 to cut the fuel costs of the wide body fleet.

The talks between Boeing and Emirates might have a couple of effects:

  1. Boost for the Boeing 747-8I
  2. Introduction of a more fuel efficient Airbus A380
  3. If a modified Airbus A380 will enter service, the boost for the 747-8I order might be the last one.

Although I think that Emirates eventually will order some Boeing 747-8Is to increase pressure on Airbus, it is meaningful to actually look at the current numbers available to see whether the 747-8I is actually a good fleet member.

One has to note that the fuel consumption calculations are rather complex and various characteristics such as turbofan characteristics, cruise speed and altitude, passenger configuration, operational items and trip distance determine the overall fuel efficiency. Additionally Boeing provides numbers that show the 747-8I as the clear winner, while Airbus does the same for its model. So to give a complete image fuel consumption numbers from various sources will be provided and analyzed.

First of all it might be worth to look at the main characteristics for both aircraft and make some preliminary calculations:

 

Airbus A380

Airbus A380 (Emirates, Ultra Long Range)

Airbus A380 (Emirates, Long Range)

Boeing 747-8I

Passengers, 3 class [-]

555

489

517

467

Fuel [L]

323546

239000

Range [km]

15700

15000

14815

Fuel efficiency* [L/passenger/100 km]

3.71

4.41

4.17

3.45

* Preliminary calculation, not taking into account reserve fuels, loitering and taxi fuel etc.

As can be seen the preliminary numbers show that for a maximum range destination, fully loaded the 747-8I is favorable, but one has to take into account that these are only preliminary, very basic, calculations and the trip distance, cruise altitude and number of passengers vary per route.

Reported numbers

Airbus:

Airbus presented the following chart back in 2010:

(click to enlarge)

Figure 1: Airbus' comparison between the A380-800, Boeing 747-400, Boeing 747-8I and Boeing 777-300ER (Source: here)

A few remarks could be made about this chart:

  1. Airbus states there are 525 (or 555 passengers), which is true, but most airlines don't operate the A380 in such a dense configuration. Passenger seats vary from 407 to 538. The "average" per operator is 487 seats. So the most common configuration probably is assumed to be the 489 seating configuration. This means that if Airbus was to calculate with 489, the fuel per trip goes down (less passengers to transport), but the number of seats decreases. This means that probably the fuel burn per seat goes up. Since this chart uses the A380-800 as a datum, it makes the calculations on the 747-8I non valid.
  2. The Boeing 747-8I has an average of 405 seats. The 747-8I can actually transport up to 467 passengers, which makes the assumption of 405 passengers a hard one to justify.

Although I believe Airbus did some in-depth calculations on the fuel burn, part of its "better performing" A380 is based on accounting for 525 instead of 487 passengers (+38) and assuming 405 instead of 467 passengers for the 747-8I (-62). Operators who want to use the 747-8I as a competitor for the Airbus A380 probably will go for a dense configuration on the 747-8I!

Boeing:

Boeing on the other hand shows this chart:

(click to enlarge)

Figure 2: Boeing's comparison between the A380-800, Boeing 747-400, Boeing 747-8I (Source: here)

This chart shows that the Airbus A380 has a 6% better fuel efficiency than the Boeing 747-400, but that the Boeing 747-8I is even 16% more efficient than the Boeing 747-400 or 11% more efficient than the Airbus A380.

Both charts show relative performance instead of numerical (verifiable) results to market the product.

Some numbers that can be found on the internet for the Boeing 747-8I and Airbus A380 are 2.8 L/passenger/100 km and 2.9 L/passenger/100 km, respectively. This would point at the Boeing 747-8I being the more fuel efficient airplane.

Emirates:

Emirates only operates the Airbus A380 (in two configurations) and claims a fuel efficiency of 3.1 L/passenger/100 km. This is well below the preliminary calculation I made in Table 1, but above the number of 2.9 L per kilometer per 100 passengers.

Lufthansa

Lufthansa, which uses the Boeing 747-8I in 2 configurations (362 and 386 seats) and the Airbus A380 in 1 configuration (526 seats), published numbers for both the Boeing 747-8 and the Airbus A380-800:

Airbus A380-800: 3.4 L/passenger/100 km

Boeing 747-8I: 3.5 L/passenger/100 km

These numbers show a minor advantage for the Airbus A380-800. It has to be noted though that Lufthansa uses the Boeing 747-8I as a direct replacement for the Boeing 747-400, meaning that the used configuration limits the fuel efficiency of the airplane. So although the Airbus A380-800 seems to be more efficient, the margin is little and is also affected by the configuration used by Lufthansa.

If the Boeing 747-8I would be used as a direct competitor of the Airbus A380-800, I think there might be a chance the 747-8I is the better choice.

So is the 747-8I a good alternative?

Now zooming out again and looking at Emirates trying to force Airbus to come up with more fuel efficient engines on the Airbus A380, one can conclude that the fuel burns of both aircraft are actually pretty close and depend pretty much on the configuration used by the airline.

So although Emirates probably is intending to place an order for the Boeing 747-8I to put pressure on Airbus, the Boeing 747-8I isn't a bad choice. For Boeing a big order means that it has enough orders in backlog to produce the Boeing 747-8I until the end of the decade.

If Emirates succeeds in forcing Airbus to refit the Airbus A380 with more fuel efficient engines then this might be the last boost for the Boeing 747-8I, but in that case Emirates and Boeing made use of the duopoly that Airbus and Boeing have, while Airbus will be forced to equip the A380 with a turbofan similar to that of the Airbus A350. In the end all parties involved might profit, but Boeing really could use an order for the Boeing 747-8I.

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