SEA-TAC, Wash. – A boom in international travel is causing Boeing and other airplane makers to accommodate the growth by building more big jets.
Over the next nine years, international travel in and out of Sea-Tac Airport is forecast to grow at 3.3 percent each year. If you include domestic flights, the number of passengers using Sea-Tac's gates is expected to jump from 32.8 million in 2011 to 41 million by 2021.
Germany’s Lufthansa, which flies mostly Airbus, picked up the first of 20 Boeing 747-8 Intercontinentals on Tuesday. The airline sees the jets as filling a gap between its Airbus 340s at around 300 seats and it's gigantic double deck A380s at more than 500 seats.
The 747-8 is a dramatically redesigned version of a jet that rolled out of the factory more than 40 years ago, but this 747 is longer. For airlines, it has a more fuel efficient wing and more fuel efficient engines, but it also has major interior upgrades inspired by the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner with bigger storage bins and nicer amenities.
So far, airlines have ordered 30 of the passenger version and 100 cargo hauling freighters. While that sounds disappointing, Boeing's vice-president and general manager for the 747 program says other airlines are expressing interest and a sales campaign for another 25 jets is underway.
Boeing's massive Everett factory is also building the 777. While not as big as a 747, the large twin-aisle jet is selling so well, Boeing is now in the process of re-designing the plane with more fuel efficient wings and considering lengthening it to hold more passengers. Production is ramping up to more than eight per month. The 747 is also ramping up to two a month.
Emirates, a rapidly growing airline from Dubai,and the largest single operator of the Boeing 777, recently began serving Sea-Tac.