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Originally published Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 12:39 PM

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Boeing’s 747-8 freighter loses orders even as efficiency improves

A Dubai lessor canceled orders for five 747-8s, though Boeing won two new orders. Boeing says the airplane’s performance is improved and close to the original specification.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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The troubled airplane-leasing unit of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE), based in the United Arab Emirates, has canceled orders for five 747-8 freighter jets, Boeing said Thursday.

Partially offsetting that, Boeing in the past week added an order for two 747-8 freighters from an unidentified customer.

The cancellations come as Boeing has significantly improved the performance of the most recently delivered models of the jet.

The net loss of three orders for the jumbo jets is valued at just over $1 billion at list prices. However, allowing for standard industry discounts, based on market-pricing data from aircraft-valuation firm Avitas, the estimated net loss to Boeing is about $560 million.

Separately, Boeing said an order for one 767 was canceled. The company’s order website shows this was a 767-300ER canceled by Air Astana, flag carrier of Kazakhstan.

Air Astana retains orders for three 767s and three 787 Dreamliners.

And an analysis of the orders website revealed one further cancellation: United Airlines pulled orders for 15 single-aisle 737s during November.

United added a massive order for 150 of those jets in July, and following the cancellation still has 175 pending deliveries, including earlier orders.

DAE’s move reflects its shriveled ambitions.

The 2008 financial crisis slammed Dubai’s overheated real-estate market and sank the investments of the backers of DAE’s airplane-leasing unit. The company subsequently canceled most of its Boeing and Airbus orders.

Out of an order book that once included 100 Boeing jets, DAE retains orders for just five 747-8 freighters and 10 777 freighters.

The 747-8 has only added a net two orders this year. The program now has 108 firm orders, with 19 more announced customer commitments. With 37 already delivered, that leaves just 90 to be built.

DAE’s freighter cancellations come as the air-cargo market suffers a global downturn.

Ironically, Boeing has improved the jet’s fuel efficiency considerably this year.

The early deliveries of the jumbo jet were overweight and fell several percent short of the performance promises made to airlines.

Boeing spokeswoman Joanna Pickup said its engineers adjusted the freighter model’s flight controls to improve aerodynamic performance, and also took out substantial weight from the jets delivered recently.

As a result, she said, the plane is “very close” to meeting its original performance specifications.

Trade magazine Flight Global reported that Yves Germeaux, an executive with Luxembourg-based 747-8 launch customer Cargolux, told a conference in San Francisco last month that its latest delivery is 2.5 tons lighter than the planes delivered a year ago.

Germeaux declared the carrier “very happy” with the jet.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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