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Originally published May 2, 2013 at 2:02 PM | Page modified May 2, 2013 at 7:47 PM

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Boeing loses 747-8 sales, defers deliveries of newest jumbo jet

Boeing lost an order for five 747-8 freighters and has deferred deliveries to other customers in a depressed air-cargo market. Boeing continues to invest and insists the jet program will recover.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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Boeing said Thursday it lost an order for five of its 747-8 cargo freighters, increasing pressure on the troubled jumbo-jet program.

DAE Capital, a once globally ambitious but now much-shrunken aircraft-leasing company in Dubai, canceled the order.

That leaves Boeing with just 59 unfilled orders for the 747-8.

But some of those are in limbo because airlines don’t want to take the planes right now.

According to data compiled by Cargo Facts, an industry newsletter, one “whitetail” 747-8 freighter is sitting in Everett without a customer.

That jet was ordered then canceled by Atlas Air.

“We’re in active discussions right now about placing that airplane,” said Boeing spokeswoman Joanna Pickup.

In addition, Boeing has parked two 747-8 freighters at the Marana Pinal Airpark in the Arizona desert for long-term storage as the cargo carriers that ordered them cannot use them in the midst of slump in the worldwide air-cargo market.

Cargo Facts reports that at least three other freighters have been re-registered from the airline that ordered them to Boeing, also indicating long term deferrals of delivery.

Recognizing that near-term demand is low, Boeing has negotiated deferred deliveries with airlines, including Volga-Dnepr, of Russia; Nippon Cargo, of Japan; and Korean Air lines.

“We’re working with a certain set of our customers who have asked for us to store the airplanes for them,” Pickup said.

“It varies from a few months to however long the customer and Boeing has decided is the best solution for both of us.”

Those planes remain Boeing’s property and won’t be paid for until delivery.

“Some planes built this year will be delivered next year,” Pickup said.

For example, Korean Air has indicated that it will defer its next two 747-8 freighters until its next fiscal year, which begins in April 2014.

Because of the outlook for lower cargo-market demand, Boeing last month announced that it will reduce production from two airplanes per month to 1.75 airplanes per month.

Pickup said Boeing’s continued 747-8 investment this year attests to its confidence in the program.

This month, Boeing begins flight testing an upgrade to the plane’s GE engines that should improve fuel efficiency by 1.8 percent and thus bring the airplane “very, very close” to the performance promised when the jet was launched.

Also, Boeing will soon flight test design changes that should allow airlines to reactivate the fuel tank in the horizontal tail, increasing the jet’s range.

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration ruled that the passenger jet would not be allowed to carry fuel in its tail until engineers fixed a potential wing-vibration problem.

Production workers in Everett are understandably worried about the future of the program.

But Pickup said Boeing’s delivery stream for the rest of this year is secure, though “we still have challenges in our 2014 delivery stream.”

She said Boeing has a lot of active sales campaigns to fill up that delivery flow.

She added that the company remains confident that the cargo market will recover, though it doesn’t expect it to do so until the latter half of next year.

Nico Buchholz is the fleet manager for Lufthansa, which has taken six of the 747-8 passenger model with 19 more on order. He said he’s confident he’ll get his entire delivery stream, with the last one due for delivery at the end of 2015 or early 2016.

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

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