Photography by Mark Perna

The first Boeing (NYSE: BA) 747-8 Intercontinental passenger airliner was delivered Wednesday at Frankfurt airport, flown directly to the headquarters of German airline Lufthansa from the Boeing factory in Everett, outside Seattle. Next month Lufthansa will become the first airline in the world to fly the airplane, whose cargo version has already been in service for a year.

It's the latest version of the venerable 747, the jet that introduced air travel to the masses in 1969 and held the title of world's biggest passenger plane until the Airbus A380 came along in 2005. The stretched -8i model still holds the title of world's longest, at 76.25 meters (250 ft 2 in), but typically carries around 470 passengers in a three-class configuration, about a hundred people fewer than its European-made rival.   

The 747-8i hasn't sold as well as the A380, with airlines ordering just 36 so far compared to 253 for the Airbus double-decker. Lufthansa is taking most of them, with 20 firm orders plus 20 options for a total, at list prices, of $5.5 billion.

"Lufthansa and Boeing have a long and proud history of working together to bring innovation to the airline industry," said in a statement Jim Allbaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

At a ceremony for employees and press at Frankfurt airport on Wednesday, Lufthansa introduced the new jet as part of a plan to renew its fleet.

"After working together for many years, we are very pleased to have the newest generation of four-engine aircraft join our fleet. We need airplanes like this new Jumbo jet to be the leader in the European aviation," said Christoph Franz, Chairman of the Executive Board and CEO of Lufthansa.

The German airline, Europe's second-biggest after Air France-KLM,  will pause fleet expansion over the next three years as part of a plan to improve annual profit by over $2 billion, according to a letter sent to employees.

The 747-8 is stretched 18.3 feet (5.6 meters) from the 747-400 it supersedes, can fly nonstop with a full load of passengers and cargo up to 8,000 nautical miles (14,815 kilometers), and according to Boeing offers airlines 13 percent lower seat-mile costs compared to the older -400 series. It also has a 30 percent smaller noise footprint than its predecessor thanks to General Electric GEnx engines and a new wing design.  

The plane also features bigger windows and some design elements of the new 787 Dreamliner, such as interior lighting that changes colors to help passengers adjust more easily to time changes as the plane crosses time zones. Lufthansa is eliminating first class seats from some of its long-range planes, but all of its 747-8s will keep them.

From June 1, the new Jumbo Jet will be deployed six times a week on the Frankfurt-Washington route. Over the next few months, as four more aircraft join the fleet, the number of destinations served will be gradually increased. By late summer, 747-8 services will be offered to Delhi, Bangalore, Chicago and Los Angeles.