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With FAA's blessing, Boeing's next-gen 747 nears delivery

Boeing says the next generation of its iconic flagship plane has received certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. That puts the plane on course for first delivery "early next year."

The first Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental takes off on its initial flight on March 20, 2011. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Boeing said today that it has received FAA certification for its flagship 747-8 Intercontinental, putting the plane on course for first delivery to its launch partner Lufthansa "early next year."

The company said the certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration "validates that the design of the 747-8 Intercontinental is compliant with all aviation regulatory requirements and the production system can produce a safe and reliable airplane, conforming to the airplane's design."

The aviation giant first unveiled the Intercontinental last February, and the plane made its first flight last March 20.

The new 747 is billed by Boeing as the most fuel-efficient and cheapest passenger jet in the world, largely due to its all-new wing design. The new wings were created using "the latest in computational fluid dynamics validated in the world's most sophisticated wind tunnels," and offer carrier customers what Boeing says is a boost in aerodynamics, as well as increased fuel capacity. The wings are also said to make the new 747 to be as fast as, or faster than, any other passenger aircraft on Earth.

"Several elements of the wing design improve performance and reduce noise compared with the 747-400," a marketing document for the Intercontinental reads. "When the flaps are extended, the ailerons automatically deflect and act as additional high-lift devices, improving takeoff and landing performance and minimizing noise." As well, Boeing has replaced the 747-400's vertical winglets with "raked wingtips that increase lift and reduce drag at cruising speeds."

Boeing says the Intercontinental's new wings feature "fly-by-wire spoilers and ailerons that make it possible to incorporate a flight control feature known as a maneuver load-alleviation system. Pioneered on the 787 Dreamliner, it changes the lift distribution over the wing during non-normal flight conditions, reducing the load on its outboard portion."

And because of the new design system, Boeing says it has saved 1,400 pounds of weight while maintaining the plane's structural integrity.

Boeing is eagerly touting the Intercontinental's environmental and economic cred. It is the sole passenger plane in the 400- to 500-seat market, and its four General Electric GEnx 2B engines are said to consume 16 percent less fuel per seat than the engines on the current-gen 747-400, and 11 percent less than Airbus' A380. At the same time, Boeing claims the Intercontinental's "noise footprint" is 30 percent less than than that of the 747-400. As an example, Boeing said that the new plane will be able to fly in and out of London's Heathrow airport 24 hours a day, while most other aircraft are subject to an evening curfew due to noise.