Lufthansa executive vice-president Nico Buchholz at a news conference before delivery by Boeing of the first 747-8 Intercontinental on May 1, in Washington. Lufthansa is the launch customer for the Intercontinental and service will start with the aircraft between Frankfurt and Washington.

A few days ago, in Frankfurt, I saw the first Boeing 747-800 to come into commercial service parked beside the even bigger Airbus A380 that had brought me from South Africa.

German airline Lufthansa, one of SAA’s partners in the international Star Alliance, is not only the launch customer of the new aircraft, which carries 344 passengers, but suggested to Boeing that there was a need for it to fit between the A380, carrying 526, and the Airbus A340 used by SAA on long-haul flights, carrying approximately 300.

Lufthansa also took an active part in the design of the new aircraft and has ordered 20 so far.

At this stage it is not planning to use it on the South African route, on which demand is strong enough for the huge A380 to be needed, but South African passengers are likely to travel on it on connecting flights to destinations not served by SAA and, in any case, innovations in its cabin furnishings and amenities are expected to be copied in other aircraft in Lufthansa’s fleet. One that is likely to be appreciated is the introduction of flat beds in business class.

Surprisingly, in view of the popularity of lie-flat beds in business class provided by many other airlines – SAA’s has been one of the best for years – Lufthansa has until now provided beds that are almost, but not quite, flat, with the result that many of its passengers find themselves slowly sliding down in the course of the night. But the new Boeing already has flat ones and they will be copied in Lufthansa’s other new long-haul aircraft.

Like the A380, the new aircraft is quiet and almost achieves Lufthansa’s medium-term target of using only three litres of fuel per passenger per 100km, which means it reduces emissions of polluting carbon dioxide by 16 percent. Its comfortable seats are similar to those in the A380 and, among other amenities, economy passengers, too, have more leg room. First-class passengers can convert their seats into private compartments by pulling up dividing screens.

The first Boeing 747s, introduced in 1969, transformed flying. Until then, it was too expensive a way of travelling to cater for the mass market. But the Boeing 747 was not only larger than other aircraft but safe, reliable and comfortable and by the mid 1970s flying had become commonplace, making international tourism and the globalisation of business possible. - Weekend Argus