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The End Of Days For The 747 Jumbo Jet

Photo by: Simon Sees
Photo by: Simon Sees
United will end all 747 service by 2018.  They join a growing list of airlines who have retired or will retire the famous dual decker jet in the next few years. Photo by: Simon Sees

The Boeing 747’s time as a passenger jet appears to be slipping away.

Just over a month ago, Air France had its last commercial 747 passenger flight when flight 439 traveled from Mexico City to Paris. That signaled the end of 45 years of Air France flying the Jumbo Jet.

Brian Sumers, a Los Angeles-based journalist and expert on commercial aviation, reported that United Airlines told its pilots Friday that the company’s plans to retire its 747s could be accelerated. United said that 2018 is the earliest it could stop flying 747s but the planes could remain in service until 2020.

Delta is in the process of phasing out its 747s and expects to have all 16 retired by next year.

According to CAPA’s data base, there are 221 747s that are in service as commercial aircraft. One third of the 747s are operated by three airlines: United, British Airways and KLM.

Even Boeing’s most efficient 747-8 has a hard time competing with Boeing’s 777 and 787 and the Airbus models. Those high-capacity planes have two engines and being more modern, they’re easier to service.

The 747 started flying commercially in 1970 and since then the four-engine wide-body has been one of the most recognizable aircraft in the world. The fuselage has a distinctive hump just behind the cockpit, which gave the interior a second level for privileged passengers. The Jumbo Jet helped revolutionize air travel, hauling hundreds of passengers to faraway destinations.

The 747 took over as Air Force One in 1990 and it also served as the transportation for the Space Shuttle, which piggy backed from the West Coast to Florida perched on top of the 747. Those who were able to see an iconic jet flying with an iconic spacecraft on top will never forget the sight.

Earlier this year, Boeing announced it was reducing production of 747 jets to just six a year.  Passenger versions will continue to be offered but the primary focus will shift to selling the cargo version.  Boeing has said that they see the 747-8 fitting a niche for outsized cargo for some time to come. Also, Boeing is in the process of modifying a commercial 747-8 that will be the next Air Force One. There will be three of those planes, as the government needs to have two ready to fly at all times while the third is being serviced. The new Air Force Ones are expected to be in service in 2020.

Written by Wendell Barnhouse

Wendell Barnhouse is a veteran journalist with over 40 years of experience as a writer and an editor. For the last 30 years, he wrote about college sports but he has had an interest and curiosity about aviation since he was in grade school.