Boeing pulls the plug on the 747 jumbo jet

The stretched 747-8 Intercontinental jumbo, never a hit with airlines, marks the end of the line for the 50-year old jet family.

By Bloomberg News , July 30 2020
Boeing pulls the plug on the 747 jumbo jet

Boeing has made a sensible yet emotional call to end production of its hulking 747 jumbo jet, ending a half-century run for the twin-aisle pioneer.

The last 747-8 will roll out of a Seattle-area factory in 2022, the company confirmed overnight, with CEO Dave Calhoun later describing it as an "emotional decision for everyone" at Boeing. "This is just us facing reality," he told CNBC. "Our customers want the new technology."

It comes as airlines around the world are scrapping their remaining Boeing 747 jumbo jets from the -400 series. Qantas sent its last Boeing 747 into retirement last week, after a series of scenic joy flights which afforded fans a final chance to fly on a jet nicknamed the Queen of the Skies.

Boeing had high hopes for the 747-8.
Boeing had high hopes for the 747-8.

Earlier this month British Airways announced it would retire all 31 of its Boeing 747s “with immediate effect” owing to the downturn in travel sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, in the wake of similar decisions by KLM and Virgin Atlantic.

The past decade has seen other 747 stalwarts – Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, United Airlines – retire their jumbo jets, usually with fanfare fitting for an aircraft so warmly remembered by travellers.

End of an era

It’s a moment that aviation enthusiasts long have dreaded, signaling the end of the double-decker, four-engine leviathans that shrank the world.

Airbus is already preparing to build the last A380 jumbo, after the final convoy of fuselage segments rumbled to its Toulouse, France, plant last month.

Yet for all their popularity with travelers, the final version of the 747 and Europe’s A380 superjumbo never caught on commercially as airlines turned to twin-engine aircraft for long-range flights.

Boeing’s 'Queen of the Skies' debuted in 1970, an audacious bet that transformed travel but almost bankrupted the company.

The first-ever jumbo jet is rolled out at Boeing's Everett factory, a Boeing 747-100, with cabin crew members of various airline customers in attendance.
The first-ever jumbo jet is rolled out at Boeing's Everett factory, a Boeing 747-100, with cabin crew members of various airline customers in attendance.

Passenger versions boasted a spiral staircase to a luxurious upstairs lounge.

The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.
The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.

Read more: Inside the Qantas Boeing 747's 'Captain Cook lounge'

Freighter models featured a hinged nose that flipped open to load everything from cars to oil-drilling gear. The 747 went on to rack up 1,571 orders over the decades – second among wide-body jets only to Boeing’s 777.

Europe's response was the Airbus A380, which took the concept of the 747's hump and extended that to a full-length upper deck – which several airlines took advantage of by adding private first class suites, inflight showers, cocktail bars and lounges.

Also read: The Airbus A380 first class concept cabins you never saw

But by the time the 'superjumbo' arrived in 2007, airlines were already tilting to smaller planes that burned less fuel. Boeing correctly anticipated that trend with the twin-engine 777 and the 787 Dreamliner.

With prodding from Joe Sutter, a famed engineer who’d led the original 747 program, the planemaker decided to develop a relatively inexpensive upgrade of the four-engine plane – creating the 747-8 series – to steal sales from the A380.

The unveilling of the Boeing 747-8I Intercontinental in February 2011.
The unveilling of the Boeing 747-8I Intercontinental in February 2011.

The strategy would have been successful, had the 747-8 not been bedeviled by early mismanagement, blowing its budget and deadlines, said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Teal Group.

The Chicago-based company has lost about US$40 million for each 747 since 2016, when it slowed production to a trickle, making just six jets a year, Jefferies analyst Sheila Kahyaoglu estimated.

From its debut in 2011, Boeing sold only 137 of the 747-8s, and twice as many of those were the 747-8F freighter version than the 747-8I passenger edition.

All told, Boeing has recorded US$4.2 billion in accounting charges for the 747-8, which has been kept alive as a freighter. The 747 notched its last order as a passenger jet in 2017 – for the new Air Force One, set to take wing in the mid-2020s.

Lufthansa was one of the relatively few airlines to fly the 747-8 as a passenger jet.
Lufthansa was one of the relatively few airlines to fly the 747-8 as a passenger jet.

Also read: Inside a Boeing 747-8 private jet

Time's up

But the coronavirus pandemic is hastening the end of the behemoths as people movers.

With travel not expected to fully recover until mid-decade, airlines are culling aging jetliners and four-engine jumbos from fleets to limit spending. About 91% of 747s and 97% of A380s are parked, Credit Suisse estimated last month.

QantasAir France and Qatar Airways are among carriers grounding their A380s, in some cases permanently.

Airbus has just nine of the planes still be delivered. All but one of them are tagged for Emirates, the largest A380 operator, which is considering whether to scrap its final five on order.

The A380 has cost Airbus about US$23 billion, breaking even or generating profits for only a three-year stretch starting in 2015, Agency Partners estimated, suggesting that with just 251 aircraft sold over the program’s life, the planemaker never achieved the efficiency that comes with manufacturing at large scale.

Boeing, meanwhile, had been preparing for years to wind down the 747 program, and its sales team has been sounding out customer interest in a potential freighter version of the 777X.

If such a model goes forward, it would bolster flagging sales of the largest twin-engine aircraft in the company’s lineup.

Also read: The Qantas Boeing 747 – looking back on a half-century of flying

Additional reporting by David Flynn

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Nov 2016

Total posts 134

As they say All Good things have to come to an end. The Queen of the Skies has more than lived up to it's reputation. The longevity of this particular aircraft confirms this and how much engineering and thought has gone into designing, building and keeping it running for over 50 years plus. Boeing have done something special here and should be proud.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 761

The 777-9 may not last long either.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 131

Is this the 777-9X series - when I was in NYC last September major new in the USA about how the aircraft wouldn't be allowed to become airborne after it failed its pressurization checks simulating 30000 feet with cargo doors blowing open - yet now much news here in Australia

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 Dec 2016

Total posts 62

It's much more saddening to miss the A380 than an old 747.

Good riddance.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 131

Loved Lufthansa 747-8 in First from FRA-HND last year

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 131

Aircraft was painted with 5StarHansa

29 Jan 2020

Total posts 16

747 800 is an improved passenger experience over the 747 400, but still nowhere near as good as the 380!

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 131

Yes A380 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Any Boeing! esp LH/EY/QR First Love LH A380 for the short hop FRA-JFK vv

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Jun 2012

Total posts 56

My favourite ride from LAX to BNE was on the Qantas 747. I usually managed to score the exit row in the upper Business class which was quiet and felt exclusive.

Yes, the 747 was a big hulking bird and there were many times when we were thundering and galumphing down the runway and I would think, "this won't end well", and then we'd eventually launch into the sky.

Better technology has made the 747 redundant, but yet I will still miss her.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 131

Yes Also used to love United Global First on the 747-400 MEL-SYD-SFO Alson MEL-SYD, then full SYD-SFO The take off on a 747 is shocking -so I would also think this wont end well!

Also Thai First on the 747-400N was great - 2 toilets in the centre QF 747-400 Business Row 5 Exit - with your own storage box! Ach well - we can reminisce over the good old days now - I havent found the A350 or the 777 (old UA aircraft, new LX aircraft, mid age ANA aircraft) particulary good Like the 787-9 for quietness - escpecially United Polaris The 787-10 United Polaris is for very very thing people!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2014

Total posts 112

So sad still one of the most lovely aircraft. Yes, I like the A380 also but there has always been something special about zone A of the 747.


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