Originally published September 21, 2011 at 3:23 PM | Page modified September 22, 2011 at 7:10 PM

Atlas Air cancels orders for three Boeing 747-8s

A second Boeing customer has rejected the earliest models of Boeing's new 747-8 freighter aircraft "due to delays and performance considerations."

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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A second Boeing customer announced Wednesday it has rejected the earliest models of Boeing's new 747-8 freighter aircraft "due to delays and performance considerations."

New York-based Atlas Air said it canceled orders for three 747-8 freighters. However, Atlas said it will still take the remaining nine jumbo jets it has on order, including three deliveries this year.

Atlas Air Worldwide CEO William Flynn said in a statement that "terminating the first three aircraft was the right decision for our fleet, our customers and our stockholders. We expect the remaining 747-8Fs in our order to be better-performing aircraft than those we have terminated.

"These three early production freighters were previously scheduled to be Atlas Air's first deliveries in 2011," the statement added. "Subsequently, Boeing rescheduled these aircraft to early 2012 and three more recently built, better-performing 747-8 freighters were moved to the 2011 delivery positions."

The 747-8 is two years behind schedule. While Atlas cited the "lengthy delays" as allowing it to cancel part of its firm order, the fact it is keeping the later aircraft points to concern over the performance of the first aircraft to roll out.

However, Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx said that "we don't believe there is any significant difference between these airplanes."

He said the first 747-8s were not so extensively modified and reworked, unlike the first 787 Dreamliners.

Months ago, Boeing's customers were told the 747-8s with General Electric engines do not meet the promised fuel-burn performance. GE spokeswoman Deb Case said the engines are about 2.7 percent short of the promised fuel efficiency.

GE is designing a "performance improvement package" that is expected to be ready for engines installed from late 2013 onward.

All 747-8s built before then will have the fuel-burn shortfall.

The first delivery of the jumbo jet had been scheduled for last Monday but was canceled last weekend after launch customer Cargolux of Luxembourg rejected the first two, citing "unresolved contractual issues" with Boeing.

Sources with knowledge of the dispute said it centers on the issue of monetary compensation for the delays and the fuel-burn shortfall.

Proulx said Boeing is still negotiating with Cargolux to resolve the disagreement and deliver the planes.

Atlas Air said it expects to receive its first 747-8F in October, followed by two in November and two in the first half of 2012. Atlas crews will fly the first three aircraft for British Airways and the next two for Switzerland-based Panalpina.

Atlas said it expects to take all nine of its remaining 747-8Fs on order by the end of 2013.

Boeing's difficulties with Atlas must be seen as karma by one Oregon-based air cargo company.

In March last year, Evergreen International Aviation of McMinnville, Ore., was shocked when Boeing, without notice, pulled Evergreen's contract to operate the fleet of four Dreamlifters — the modified 747s that ferry large 787 sections around the world — and handed the contract instead to Atlas.

In a lawsuit Evergreen filed against Boeing that was later dismissed, Evergreen argued that the only reason for switching the contract was to offset "Boeing's nearly billion-dollar liability to Atlas resulting from delays on the Boeing 747-8 program."

Dominic Gates:

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