Boeing's new 747-8 airliner has completed its maiden flight, paving the way for the only competitor to the enormous Airbus A380 to enter service. A freighter version of the new 747-8 spent three hours 39 minutes in the air before touching down safely Monday afternoon at Paine Field in Everett, Washington in the US.

Boeing's new model is essentially a stretched Boeing 747 "jumbo jet," one of the world's most popular aircraft. The Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is slightly longer and thinner than the Airbus A380 and capable of seating 467 passengers (with a standard configuration) compared to the 525 on board the A380. It can fly for around 15,000 km, over 1000 km further than the standard 747, which puts non-stop routes such as New York to Hong Kong or London to Perth in range.

However, Boeing is selling the new aircraft on its luxurious interior and efficiency.  Amenities for passengers include improved stowage bins, more head room and an LED lighting system designed to simulate dawn to dusk. Spaciousness is a key element of the new design and sets it apart from other airliners - at the main passenger entrance, a "dramatic" staircase leads up to the business class cabin on the extended top deck. There will also be a bar area for guests to gather and mingle whilst the aircraft is cruising.

Boeing has reused much of the technology of the 787 Dreamliner in the new 747-8, making it cleaner and slightly faster than the standard 747. Per seat-kilometer, the 747-8's emissions are 16 percent below that of its predecessors, whilst the GEnx engines are also quieter.

Airlines are looking for ways to make their aircraft more profitable, and putting more passengers on them is an obvious way to do it. The 747-8 is Boeing's immediate answer to the popular Airbus A380, the largest passenger aircraft ever built. However, large-scale aviation appears to be in the long term plans of both manufacturers, as Boeing has already announced that it is working on a concept aircraft named the Y3 which will be bigger still. Korean Air, Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa are all known to have ordered the 747-8.