The first VIP version of the 747-8I has been officially delivered by Boeing to an undisclosed customer, believed to be the government of Qatar’s Amiri Flight.

The handover marks the start of a two-phase, two-year interior completion effort at sites in the U.S. and Germany and is the first of eight VIP deliveries expected in 2012, says Elizabeth Lund, 747 VP and general manager.

Boeing declines to formally identify the first customer, though the aircraft carries a Qatar registration. Lund will only say the aircraft is the first of several destined for operators in the Middle East. Others to follow this year are thought to be in line for the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi Amiri Flight, as well as an additional aircraft for Qatar.

Boeing says the aircraft will enter service in 2014 after its VIP interior is installed. The first phase of this covers integration of an “Aeroloft” or aft-mounted sleeping berth for up to eight people. Developed by Greenpoint Technologies, the Aeroloft is located above the main cabin between the upper deck and tail and will provide an additional 393 sq. ft. of cabin space.

Following completion of this roughly six-week phase by Boeing Global Transport & Executive Systems in Wichita, the aircraft will fly to Lufthansa Technik’s Hamburg site. In Hamburg, the aircraft will undergo a more extensive two-year completion effort that will include bedrooms, state rooms, bathrooms and other furnishings, as well seats for up to 100 staff.

Including the Aeroloft, the VIP version of the 747-8 Intercontinental provides a cabin with 5,179 sq. ft. When configured for around 100 passengers, the variant has a range of about 8,840 nautical miles, Boeing says. Based on the in-service performance of the first batch of 747-8F freighters, overall fuel burn is within 1% of initial specification despite the earlier development issues and the performance fuel burn shortfall of the initial General Electric GEnx-2B engines, Boeing says.

“Based on measured performance, the 747-8F operators are 1% better than what they expected, so it’s heading in the right direction,” adds 747 VP and Chief Project Engineer Bruce Dickinson. A broader improvement package that includes drag, weight and engine upgrades is in development with the improved -2B engine due to be tested in 2013, he adds.

Despite the softness of the freight market, which makes up the bulk of the 747-8 orderbook, Boeing remains committed to increasing the production rate to two units per month by mid-year, says Lund. Initial wing set and large structures production is already ramping up to this rate, she adds.

Meanwhile, a delivery date for the first passenger model to launch customer Lufthansa is set to be decided “in the next few weeks,” says Lund. The final phase of flight testing, which is focused on the passenger interior systems and inflight entertainment electronics, is due to be completed within “five to seven days,” she adds.