The last Boeing 747 has rolled off the production floor, ending over half a century of consistent production and deliveries. A monumental time for the aircraft manufacturer that said goodbye to the queen of the skies forever, but why did such a critical aircraft have to see production end?
Let’s begin with industry trends. The Boeing 747 and other superjumbo like it have certainly been in their twilight phase for some time now, and one could even argue that for the 747-8 and the Airbus A380 by the time they arrived into the industry, the era of the superjumbo was already beginning to fade away slowly but surely.
This can be down to several things, but industry trends have shifted drastically. Once an age where the primary option for the long haul was a quad-engined Boeing product, now the possibilities are limitless and leading the way at both Boeing and Airbus are no longer quad-engined planes, but wide body twin-engined aircraft, capable of completing 19-hour flights with efficiency blowing these four-engined planes out of the water.
While aircraft like the Boeing 747 benefit from higher capacity over, say, a Boeing 787, the reality is there are many difficulties in actually the higher capacity resulting in a customer primarily operating profitability with the plane. This means that large aircraft such as these only work in specialised markets, you could say, markets that can make these aircraft work well.
So while not centred on the 747 but very much applicable to the superjumbo conversation, what Emirates has done with their A380 series highlights how such a plane that has globally not worked as well has excelled in a market that is fit for its purpose, applies that to the 747-8 in this scenario. It highlights its strengths but also very much its weakness and how immediately you’re ruling out a significant amount of potential customer interest.
Whereas for a plane like the Boeing 777, which now is getting on in terms of age, or the Boeing 787, moving across even the Airbus A350. These twin-engined planes offer any customer looking to purchase a wide body far more flexibility than a Boeing 747 would in this era of flight. United Airlines extensively flies the Boeing 787 series worldwide, operating all three variants but in different ways that benefit their network and operations.
The -10 is the family’s most prominent member with the highest seat capacity and can be subsequently seen on even a flight From Newark to Los Angeles. At the same time, a -9 can fly from Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia. Airlines benefit from improved efficiency and the ability to be versatile with this next generation of aircraft in a way that’ll help them.
Sure, the Boeing 747 was an aircraft that had that many decades ago, but the key lies in it being many decades ago. Unfortunately, the plane is not what it once was, and this has been evident in the lack of sales for the passenger variant of the 747-8, which saw production cease many years ago. It’s only now the freighter variant keeping the 747’s name in a production sense alive. Meanwhile, the A380 production ended a year ago already too.
Demand for quad-engined planes isn’t there anymore from passenger airlines. They’ve now found more effective aircraft for their operations. But, with the risks associated with taking on a Boeing 747, the biggest being the need to fill the plane on every flight, for most airlines and especially following the pandemic, it’s not an option that makes sense.
Though this cannot be applied to every airline as the 747 does remain flying with some customers, generally speaking, the emergence of the global pandemic only highlighted what we already knew about the queen of the skies, and that was it is a dying breed and in its twilight.
The pandemic saw an onslaught of retirements, but most notably, Qantas, KLM and British Airways all announced the immediate retirement of the queen, a shock to many enthusiasts systems but one that certainly showcased the valid concerns over continuing to fly such a plane.
There are calls from Emirates’ executives for a new large plane to be built, like the Airbus A380. Still, aircraft manufacturers are not budging, their focus has shifted elsewhere, and that’s another critical point to the analysis.
Focus is no longer sat on creating these 500+ seat giants, relatively efficient wide body and narrow body planes capable of completing long ranged missions at a fraction of the cost, while also sustainability being at the forefront of conversations as these very aircraft manufacturers explore SAF, sustainable aviation fuel, battery technology and more for future eras of flight.
As Boeing wraps up their 747 programs, the 747 will remain in our skies for quite some time. However, it must be said that its presence will be mostly felt over on the freighter market as it continues to routinely operate with leading companies such as UPS and Atlas Air, among others like Cargolux.
Even as the aircraft departs from Boeing factories and heads into the twilight of its time in the industry, its impact is unmistakable and will hardly be forgotten anytime soon. So I encourage you to use the comments to share your fondest memories of the Boeing 747 as a series of aircraft.
It could be your time flying on it, a memorable spotting journey, or something else. For me, it’s the reason I am here today making this content and have my passion for aviation, so yes, it’s a pretty special plane very close to my heart.