A shiny new B747-8 — the world’s longest, Boeing’s biggest, and arguably the world’s most luxurious long-haul commercial aircraft — touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport last week, courtesy of Lufthansa Airlines, which is introducing the plane in the Middle East and Europe.
Over 100 people attended a press event to greet it, with many of those present gasping at the sheer size of the aircraft – the largest ever to touch down on Israeli soil — as it trundled down the runway, an Israeli flag hanging on its side.
Last year, Lufthansa stopped using wide-body aircraft to carry passengers from Germany to Tel Aviv, mostly due to insufficient numbers of first class and business passengers, opting instead for smaller planes with more economy seats. But Karsten Zang, general manager of passenger sales to Israel, said he thinks Israelis will still be excited at the prospect of flying on the new 747, on connecting flights from Germany to long-haul destinations.
“Israelis were not too happy about the introduction of narrow body planes,” Zang said. “But Lufthansa is so much more than only the flights between Tel Aviv and Frankfurt, or Tel Aviv and Munich.”
The 747-8 is the newest jumbo in the Lufthansa fleet. The airline has acquired eight so far, each costing about $380 million, and is looking to expand to 19.
Once in the air, said Lufthansa’s captain Heyen Andreas, the plane flies like a regular-sized Boeing. The challenge comes when trying to land; with a wingspan of 68.70 meters, it’s too large for many airports.
Designing the supersize model was a major challenge for Boeing, according to Andreas. “The biggest challenge was to build a competitive aircraft on an old frame,” he said. “And they managed to do that. It’s bigger, takes more passengers, uses less fuel and produces less noise.” (The new aircraft uses around 3.8 liters of fuel per passenger per 100 kilometers, compared to the industry average of 4.8 liters.)
Because of the large number of passengers it can carry— 8 first class, 92 business and 260 economy— the plane will mostly be used for long-haul, 10 hours and more flights to and from Germany. Destinations include San Francisco, Washington, Chicago, Hong Kong, Bangalore and Delhi.
With the approval by Israel and the EU of the new Open Skies deal, Lufthansa, among other European carriers, also hopes to be implement more routes and more frequent flights to and from Israel, said Carsten Schaeffer, Lufthansa’s vice president of sales and services for the Middle East.
Schaeffer wants to increase the number of daily flights to and from Frankfurt from two to three, and hopes to boost travel to Berlin as well, as it has become a popular vacation and business spot for Israelis. “Today if you walk though Berlin, you hear a lot of Hebrew,” Schaeffer said, “which is great.”