Boeing says it is "very close" to reaching deals in sales campaigns for the Boeing 747-8 that would fill production slots in 2016. 

"We want to be back at rate 1.75 [aircraft per month]," 747 Vice President and General Manager Eric Lindblad said at the Boeing plant in Everett/Washington. He declined to disclose the exact split between freighters and passenger aircraft, but "there are a lot of Intercontinentals in the conversations that we are having." Industry sources say Boeing is talking to up to four airlines in Asia and Europe about a potential order for the type.

By contrast, Lindblad concedes that demand for the freighter version is still weak: "The freight market has to become better before we see a ton of activity," Lindblad said. Boeing is currently at a rate of 1.5 aircraft per month.

Sales for the 747-8 have lagged far behind initial expectations. Boeing has 120 firm orders and 69 aircraft have been delivered so far. After Lufthansa, Air China will become the second passenger airline to take delivery of a 747-8 later this year. The first Air China aircraft is currently receiving  interiors in the Everett final assembly line. Korean Air will follow in 2015.

Boeing has recently been pitching the aircraft to Emirates for Dubai to U.S West Coast flights, but Emirates Airline President Tim Clark has publicly discarded the idea. The airline is currently flying the A380 and 777 to destinations on the West Coast. Turkish Airlines has also been named as one potential operator of the aircraft.

As part of the campaigns, Boeing is still talking to airlines about improvements to the 747-8 that have been defined in "Project Ozark" and some of which have already been introduced. "We can have an aircraft that can do 8,200 nm if we have the right customers," Lindblad said. The current 747-8 has a design range of 7,800 nm. All of the Ozark improvements combined would lead Boeing to raise maximum take-off weight to above 1,000,000 lb. from  the current 987,000 lb.

"We have not launched Ozark, but we have taken items off the list," Lindblad said. Aircraft coming off the line today are 3.5% better in terms of fuel burn than the aircraft initially delivered.

Lufthansa, which took delivery of its 14th 747-8 this weekend, says the aircraft is now meeting the performance specifications guaranteed by Boeing. The airline has a total of 19 747-8s on firm order.

According to Lufthansa's Executive Vice President Fleet Management Nico Buchholz, the in-service fleet can be upgraded to reach around a 2% improvement mainly by bringing engines up to the performance improvement package (PIP) standard during shop visits. But he said, "we want to see further improvements."

Improvements already implemented include PIP, the tail fuel tank activation and  a FMC upgrade, amongst others. Boeing has so far reached a 9,000 lb. weight reduction and wants to reach 10,000 lb. before the end of the year. That target was originally planned to be reached only in 2016

"A lot of the weight reduction comes out of the structure," Lindblad said. "But we have more in store." More initiatives include the wing to body tail plane to body fairing where more aerodynamic improvements are still possible.