Final delivery of the Boeing 747 goes to Atlas Air


Boeing has delivered its last 747 jumbo jet, more than half a century after the plane began production.

Although many 747s are still in service — and likely will be for decades — the latest delivery reflects a growing industry shift from bulky four-engine planes to more economical twin-engine models.

Boeing delivered its last 747 jumbo jet on January 31 as thousands of workers watched. Former flight test engineer Thomas H. Gray described the moment. (Video: Reuters)

Boeing’s success with the 747 – the company has now delivered 1,574 models and logged more than 118 million flight hours worldwide – started with failure. After losing a military contract for a large cargo aircraft, Boeing adapted its cargo design into a large civilian aircraft. He found a willing buyer in Pan American Airways, which ordered 25 of the aircraft in April 1966. The new twin-aisle design reduced cost per seat and doubled passenger capacity. Since then, the widebody, humpbacked 747, affectionately known as the “Queen of the Skies,” has revolutionized air travel, enabling longer, safer and more affordable flights.

The 747 has led to a “dramatic increase in international air travel” by reducing costs, Scott Miller, a pilot and senior lecturer in the Department of Aviation at San Jose State University, said in an email. “But that won’t be the legacy of the 747. Its legacy will be the timeless majesty of the plane itself.

“In aviation, everyone can probably tell you two things: the first time they flew anything and the first time they flew a 747,” said Dave Kircher, CEO of a General Electric production line that manufactures engines that powered Boeing planes. . “I’ll never forget being on that upper deck of a 747. It’s just iconic,” he said, according to a company news site.

News of the delivery of the last 747 sparked tributes among aviation enthusiasts. To mark the occasion, flight tracking site Flightradar24 noted the oldest and youngest 747s in flight at that time, one delivered in 1974 and the other in 2022.

John Dietrich, president and CEO of Atlas Air, the cargo plane and last customer to receive a 747, said at a ceremony commemorating the delivery that he and his company were honored to continue to operate the aircraft. Actor John Travolta, a pilot who flew the 747, also attended the ceremony at the company’s production facility north of Seattle on Tuesday, saying he “had to be here in person.”

But Boeing’s decision to halt production of the plane comes as airlines seek more fuel-efficient planes that can cut costs and slow emissions that contribute to climate change.

After taking orders for 195 planes in the 1960s, Boeing’s sales increased over the following decades, according to figures published on its website. During the 1970s, the company received orders for 349 of the aircraft. Boeing then took more than 900 orders in the 1980s and 1990s. But demand has since slowed. Boeing has received orders for six 747s since 2020.

Instead, airlines ordered the most economical twin-engine 737s and 777s. Having more motors means increased power, allowing heavier payloads and longer distances. But having more engines also usually means higher maintenance costs for aircraft owners in fuel and repairs.

Other methods of reducing costs for airlines, such as increasing the number of passengers on the same flight, are also reaching their natural limits, according to McKinsey, the consultancy. Seat density — defined as “the percentage of actual seats in an aircraft cabin relative to the maximum number” of seats the plane is certified for — rose from 82% in 2005 to 88% in 2019, according to McKinsey .

Airlines such as United, Delta, Australia’s Qantas and British Airways have phased out their 747 fleets in recent years. The most recent deliveries of the Boeing 747 passenger jet to a major airline were in 2017, when three 747s went to Korean Air.

Miller, a pilot who previously worked in ground services at San Francisco International Airport, said he had never flown a 747 but proudly recalled working with them at the airport. .

“When a 747 passes, people stop and watch,” he added. “Takeoffs or landings are events, just like the docking or undocking of a cruise ship a century ago.”

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