Boeing’s 747 Should Have Been Retired Years Ago

The 1,574. and The final 747, which rolled off Boeing’s production line in Everett, Wash. on Jan. 31, is destined to ship goods around the world on behalf of New York-based freight company Atlas Air.

It’s an unassuming end to an era in aviation that began more than half a century ago. The first 747 — “the airplane that shrunk the world and revolutionized travel,” according to Stan Deal, President and Chief Executive Officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes — was unveiled in 1968 to airlines around the world and emblematic of a lost “golden age.” ‘ of air travel, although it has long since been surpassed by newer, better aircraft. “Technology has evolved,” says John Strickland, aviation analyst at JLS Consulting.

This is at least the second time the 747 obituary has been written. Orders for the aircraft peaked at 122 in 1990 and have been declining ever since. The last passenger 747 was delivered to Korean Air in 2017. In 2020, Qantas and Virgin flew their last passenger flights on the plane, and British Airways announced it was phasing out the model – four years earlier than expected. According to aeronautical data analysis group Cirium, 385 747s are still in service, mainly for cargo companies, and 122 in storage. The company estimates that nearly 100 747s will still be in service in 2040.

“The decline in favor of the 747 has been a gradual process,” says Brendan Sobie, founder of Singapore-based aviation consultancy Sobie Aviation.

Part of the 747’s early appeal was its sheer size. In the 1950s and 1960s, most aircraft were narrow-body, single-aisle jets that could only accommodate a comparatively small number of passengers. The 747’s four engines meant the size of the aircraft itself could be much larger, and with it more seats and galley space. “The airlines were initially worried about how they were going to sell all those extra seats on the planes,” says Strickland. “But it gave them a chance to be more competitive and oversell at the lower end of the range and still offer incredible service at the higher end.

“It’s just a big plane,” says Robert Mann, an aviation analyst at RW Mann & Company, based in New York. “It’s not just bulky. It’s like a concert hall on grand pianos. It’s a palatial experience.”

That size came with an awe factor that was a key selling point in a competitive industry where passengers increasingly had airline choices. “No matter who was running it, whether it was Japan Airlines or Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France or a government agency, it projected power,” says Mann. “It was an airplane that was an oversized force projection. People stood there in amazement.”

The plane’s engines, which produce 45,000 pounds of thrust, represented a significant advance over an earlier generation of aircraft. But they were soon overtaken by newer technology. Later engines would produce up to 100,000 or 120,000 pounds of thrust, meaning aircraft only needed two engines instead of the 747’s four. “And they needed less fuel to do the same mission as the 747,” says Mann. Boeing’s 747 Should Have Been Retired Years Ago

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