Boeing calls time on its beloved Jumbo Jet 747
The Boeing 747 is being grounded after nearly half a century. We discover why, and trace the history of this iconic behemoth once known as Queen of the Skies.
A forecast by the Chicago-based manufacturer eliminated Boeing’s long-standing category for “very large” aircraft (meaning the Boeing 747), instead merging it with “medium and large” widebody planes. This represents a shift in passenger jets towards smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the 777X and the 787 Dreamliner. However, there is a chance that the 747 may live on through private ownership and private plane charter for dignitaries and heads of state, or as a cargo jet.
Boeing 747 History
The Boeing 747, a wide-bodied goliath with four engines, is one of the most famous passenger jets of all time, known by the affectionate nickname, “Jumbo Jet”. The plane was used by NASA and the US military, and appeared in more than 300 films, including the Die Hard movies. But it will perhaps be best remembered as Air Force One, the private plane to the President of the United States. In this role the commodious 747 set a new standard in private aviation.
But the distinctive aircraft, which has a visible “hump” due to the upper deck, has dwindled in popularity in recent years. In September 2015, Boeing announced that production would be cut in half, and in July 2016, the company warned that it was considering ending production due to losses. Delta and United, the last two U.S. airlines to fly 747s, announced this year that that they will eliminate the plane from their fleet by the close of 2017.
A changing market
Boeing’s forecast, which covers the next 20 years, predicts that airlines will use more fuel-efficient twin-engine jets on long-haul flights. This includes planes like their 777X and 787 Dreamliner. The company is also developing a mid-market plane, still on the drawing board, designed to replace their 737 MAX 9.
Boeing is responding to a market which increasingly favors smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft. The company has already reduced production of the 747 due to diminishing orders. As well as the issue of fuel-efficiency, changing flight patterns are another reason for the 747’s demise. Route networks have changed, allowing smaller aircraft to fly directly to smaller airports, killing the demand for big planes running through giant hubs.
Airbus’ contrasting approach
Boeing’s stance is in stark contrast to that taken by Airbus, the manufacturer of the 747’s direct competitor, the A380. On 19th June, at the Paris Air Show, Airbus announced plans to make enhancements to the A380 in the hopes of reigniting demand.
This is despite a tough few years for Airbus’s goliath, with Forbes putting their A380 program on “death watch” in June 2016. Production has been sitting at just twenty-eight A380s per annum for years, and is estimated to fall to just 1 per month in 2018.
“[Airbus] went big and heavy, we went small and efficient,” Mike Delaney, Boeing’s vice president and general manager for airplane development, told the Washington Post in June. “We’ll overfly our competitors, put a lighter gauge on things.”
This strategy paid dividends at the Paris Air Show in June. Boeing beat their French competitor in sales, despite Airbus’ home field advantage, with the French company receiving 326 net new orders and commitments to Boeing’s 571. Boeing’s figures were buoyed up by the release of a new model of their best-selling 737 airliner.
The 747’s gradual demise is another blow to Southern California’s role in big plane manufacture. One supplier to Boeing in the area is a fuselage-panel plant in the city of Hawthorne. The plant once employed thousands, but is now staffed by just 300.
The 747’s future does, however, contain two bright spots. The aircraft will be retaining its most famous position, as Air Force One, into the immediate future, as President Donald Trump signed a new contract with Boeing in January 2017. President Trump will use two or three heavily modified 747s, continuing a tradition started in 1990. The 747 was previously used as private jet by US presidents George H. W. Bush (who selected the jet as Air Force One), Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
In addition to this, the Boeing 747 jet also faces a rosier future as a cargo plane, where its giant girth is a distinct advantage. The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter, also known as the Boeing 747-400 Large Cargo Freighter, has the largest cargo hold in the world. It can carry three times the volume of a 747-400F freighter. Demand for the Boeing 747 jet as a cargo plane is still high: In 2016 UPS ordered 14 Boeing 747-8 cargo freighters, taking an option for another 14.
The immense 747, which welcomed in a new era of mass long-range travel in the Nineteen Seventies, will eventually will be replaced at the top of Boeing’s pecking order by the 777X. Boeing plans that the 400-seat plane, which will be its largest aircraft, will make its debut in 2020.
To recapture the romance of flying in the Boeing 747’s mid century glory days, why not charter a private jet? We will handle every detail, leaving you free to relax, work or socialize in your luxurious private plane.
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