Why Boeing Ended The 747-8

Daniel Fowkes
10 Mar 2024
· Aircraft 
· Airlines 
Boeing delivered its final 747-8 in 2023, ending over half a century of continued production. But why did the plane maker end the series?

At the beginning of 2023, Boeing would deliver its final 747-8, a freighter destined for Atlas Air, and thus end production on an aircraft that had been a mainstay in its business for over half a century.

Why, however, did such an important long-haul aircraft that changed the way we travel have to end? Was the writing on the wall since its conception, or did industry trends shift over time?

A Changing Industry

The Boeing 747 and other superjumbos have arguably been in their twilight phase for a considerable period, with customer interest continuing to drop.

While the Airbus A380 has returned to service following the pandemic and is a superjumbo experiencing a minor resurgence, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Ultimately, several airlines retired this type when restrictions were at their peak.

The Boeing 747, once an industry leader and the primary aircraft for long-haul operations, in a similar sense to the A380 at its birth, saw airlines seek other options.

The conception of twin-engine long-haul aircraft that could boost efficiency while being cheaper was a sight to behold. These developments changed the industry and allowed airlines to see what was possible at a fraction of the cost.

While aircraft types such as the 747 benefitted thanks to their high capacity, their four engines posed an unattractive option for airlines by the time the 2000s rolled around. Emerging aircraft such as the A350 and 787, even the pre-existing 777 and A330, while not 747 replacements, were making their mark on the industry.

What does the future hold for Boeing in 2024. Will the plane maker need to continue focusing on the 777X and get this certified, will there be a focus on ensuring smooth delivery of aircraft long into the future with no quality assurance difficulties or will Boeing need to put an emphasis on the certification of their 737-7 and 737-10, two members of the MAX series that have incurred substantial delays.

The 747-8 for these reasons, including others such as cost didn’t ultimately attract the sales that Boeing may have initially expected or ideally wanted.

The 747s Purpose

These larger planes, especially the 747-8, are fit for a purpose, but ultimately, this purpose has dwindled over time. As other alternatives come into the market, some produced by Boeing themselves, the scope of focus internally shifts.

The 747-8 required considerable resources and costs to produce. If customers weren’t interested in the aircraft, why would the plane maker continue dedicating space and time to it when this could be better spent?

Sure, the Boeing 747 was an aircraft that airlines just had to have many decades ago, and its several enhanced iterations provided a valuable building block for airlines. However, the key to this fact is that it occurred decades ago.

Unfortunately, while the 747s purpose will never disappear as it’s forever etched in history, airlines’ requirements for this purpose have dwindled.

Poor Sales

Arguably, the Boeing 747-8, in a similar fashion to the A380, struggled to attract significant interest from airlines around the world. The -8 passenger variant saw production cease some time ago.

For Boeing, the 747-8 Freighter would keep the product alive and ultimately outlast the A380, with final delivery occurring some 13 months after the last A380-800 was shipped off to Emirates.

While Airbus had studied a freighter variant for its A380, it wouldn’t proceed for a host of reasons. At least for Boeing, the freighter type allowed them to diversify their offering to customers and attract more executives to their final and advanced model.

Saying Goodbye To The Queen

When Boeing launched the 747-8, some analysts believed the interaction was too little, too late, and the new variant would be unable to keep up with the changing industry.

Ultimately, these analysts would be true. Only a handful of airlines ever ordered the 747-8 passenger variant, and while the freight aircraft will remain flying for decades to come, its presence isn’t near what Boeing would’ve hoped for.

The arrival of the global pandemic reaffirmed the stance many airlines had that a type like the 747-8 didn’t simply work with its significant costs and most airlines’ inability to source ideal routes. Airlines had moved away from the typical hub and spoke model and were now focusing on point-to-point routes where these superjumbos didn’t work.

A New Era

Ultimately, Boeing’s decision to end the 747-8 didn’t come as a shock to many who believed the writing was on the wall for some time. In fact, some argued the fate of the aircraft was somewhat pre-determined.

Despite its struggles, the 747 enjoyed its time in the sun for longer than most aircraft can, helping to reshape the way long-haul travel was conducted on several occasions, too.

As the 747-8 departed Boeing’s production line, a new era in passenger and freighter aircraft entered with the 787s’ continued growth in the market, new upcoming freighters, and much more.

A new 747 at this point in the industry is unlikely; Boeing is moving on, and unless something dramatically changes, its future lies elsewhere.

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