Lufthansa already operates the world's largest-capacity airliner, the Airbus A380, and is now looking to use that experience to ease service preparations for the world's longest airliner—the Boeing 747-8—as it prepares to become the first carrier to operate both behemoths in 2012.

To pave the way for the 747-8's service debut, expected in the first quarter, Lufthansa used a Boeing test aircraft for ground-handling-process tests Dec. 6-9 at Frankfurt Airport. Similar to the 787 Service-Ready Operational Evaluation conducted by Boeing and All Nippon Airways in July, the tests rehearsed everything from inserting the aircraft into maintenance hangars to pulling up to an airport gate to check jetway fittings and catering services.

The visiting aircraft, RC021, is one of three test airframes in the 747-8 passenger variant certification program and will be the fifth to join Lufthansa's fleet when it is delivered in the third quarter of 2012. It was specifically used to test interior systems such as heating and air conditioning, cabin lighting and systems and galleys. The first of 20 for delivery to the airline is completing assembly at Boeing's facility in Everett, Wash.

Lufthansa Technik plans primarily to use Frankfurt's Hangar 5, which was designed and built for the 747-100, to house the 747-8 for maintenance checks. The company intends to perform A checks, which occur every 1,000 flight hours; C checks, which happen every two years; and nonroutine maintenance for the new aircraft in Frankfurt.

This maintenance schedule is the same as that for the 747-400 fleet, but Frank Holterhoff, the maintenance division's project manager for 747-8 service readiness, thinks Lufthansa Technik will probably adopt a phased approach for maintenance, instead of using the manufacturer's letter checks, as it does for the -400s.

The 747-8 is more than 18 ft. longer than the existing 747-400s in Lufthansa's fleet and features a new 229-ft.-span wing. Due to the larger dimensions, Lufthansa Technik will be able to accommodate simultaneously only four 747-8s in Hangar 5, compared with six -400s. If Lufthansa's maintenance capacity requirements increase for the mixed 747/A380 fleet, the company says it will expand Hangar 7, the facility developed for the double-decker Airbus.

The maintenance division will decide whether it needs to expand its current facilities in the next few years, says Dean Raineri, director of new aircraft readiness and aircraft maintenance for Lufthansa Technik. The airline estimates that the -8 will require the same number of maintenance hours as the -400, says Holterhoff; for in-service performance, Lufthansa is targeting at least a 98.5% dispatch reliability. To help with the transition to the 747-8, Lufthansa Technik sent a team of 25 747-400 technicians to Boeing's Seattle facility for four weeks of maintenance training.

In other preparations, NIJL Aircraft Docking, the Netherlands-based maintenance-dock specialist, has reconfigured some of Lufthansa's 747-400 maintenance infrastructure for the 747-8—including adding wheels to make the structure more portable. This is the same company that created the A380 rear docking system in Hangar 7.

Other steps include the addition of hundreds of special maintenance tools that Lufthansa Technik ordered for the 747-8, including hoist fixtures to lift heavy components. The German LBA aviation authority has already approved Lufthansa Technik's line maintenance program for the 747-8, and Holterhoff and Raineri expect the authority to approve their company's base maintenance plan by the end of the year.

In the meantime, Raineri expects to receive Lufthansa Technik's first spare General Electric GEnx-2B engine in January, and he believes that one spare will suffice for at least the first five aircraft. Raineri says Lufthansa will use some of Boeing's airplane health-monitoring services, but final contract signature is still pending.

Boeing, meanwhile, continues airframe and engine testing on the 747-8, including additional certification work on the 747-8F, despite the latter already having entered service. Test 747-8I aircraft RC001 recently was engaged in further tests of the GEnx-2B, with work focused on ground operations with engine-out taxi tests as well as checks on vapor leakage.

One 747-8F also remains in the active test program. Sister ships RC522 and 523 were ferried to San Antonio for refurbishment on Oct. 6 and Aug. 7, respectively. The last test aircraft is being used to help complete parts of the Russian aircraft certification program as well as to check final refinements of the troublesome flight-control system, which contributed so much to the original delay in FAA/European Aviation Safety Agency certification. Recent tests, for example, have focused on checking the tension of flight-control cables during cold-soak temperatures of the type that will be experienced by the Russian-operated aircraft in particular.