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United 747 Fleet Is Retired — So How Can You Still Fly On ‘The Queen Of The Skies’?

Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 at Flughafen Rhein-Main Airport (FRA). Photo Wi1234 (wikimedica commons: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

It has been 47 years since Boeing rolled the first 747 off the assembly line. Boeing has made more than 1,500 of the Queen jumbo jets since 1970. The first one took its maiden flight in January 1970 with Pan American Airways. This year will mark the first time since then that the US operated 747 passenger planes will be missing from the skies, as Avgeeks around the world make plans to celebrate its send-off.

By the end of 2017, United and Delta will stop flying the passenger planes. In fact, November 7 was the last day of operations for United’s 747 fleet. United commemorated the occasion with a special flight between San Francisco and Honolulu, complete with retro styling for the flight crews who will wore 1970s style uniforms and featured music from the ’70s when 747s were the newest jet in the skies.

Delta has not finalized plans for the final flight but has scaled back routes to include only international destinations. The remaining 747s still in the air that are operated by US airlines are represented by a few charter jets and cargo operators. But that does not mean the 747 is going away completely. Avgeeks, take heart: even with United’s retirement and Delta’s planned send off, you can still catch a flight on a 747 if you fly internationally.

The Good News: Major International Airlines Are Still Flying The 747

British Airways

British Airways Boeing 747-400 taking off at Sydney Airport. Photo Jeff Gilbert (http://jetphotos.net/viewphoto.php?id=6124192&nseq=24)

British Airways is still proudly operating 747-400s. With 36 of the aircraft still in service, British Airways holds the distinction of being the largest operator still using the planes. It does have a replacement plan under way, however, and is phasing out the 747s and replacing them with long haul twin jets like the Boeing 777, Boeing 787, and Airbus A380 and A350. CFO Steve Gunning, who spoke at an IAG investor event November 3, said the incoming twin jets are 30% more fuel efficient than their 747 predecessors and the airline will save $196 million in fuel costs over the next five years by retiring the older planes. The last British Airways 747 is expected to take its final flight in February 2024, according to Gunning.

Lufthansa

In fact, Lufthansa is still flying the 747-400 domestically between Frankfurt and Berlin for a limited time. According to Zach Honig at The Points Guy, Lufthansa will operate as many as five roundtrip domestic 747 flights between November 14 and November 30. Most of these are longhaul flights. The airline has not committed to a definite schedule frequency for the flights but if you want to catch one, you will have to settle for coach class since Lufthansa’s 747-400s don’t offer first class but rather, a beefed up business class option.  The airline also operates a fleet of Boeing 747-8is and 747-400 cargo aircraft.

Korean Air

Korean Air Lines Boeing 747-8 at Frankfurt Airport. Photo tjdarmstadt (wikimedica commons: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Korean Airlines continues to operate the 747-8 Intercontinental. The passenger version of the plane made its debut in 2011. The jumbo jet can fly up to 8,000 nautical miles and seats up to 467 passengers.

Korean Air was the first airline on the planet to operate both the freighter and passenger version of the 747-8. “Korean Air has been a valued Boeing customer for more than 40 years,” says Ray Conner, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Conner goes on to say, “I am confident that the 747-8 will continue to play an important role in Korean Air’s long-term success.” Currently, Korean Air operates 737s, 747s and 777s in it’s fleet of 88 Boeing passenger jets. It’s cargo fleet are all either Boeing 747-400s, 747-8s or 777s. The airline took its first delivery of the 250-feet and 2-inches long 747-8I this summer. Boeing says the Korean Air delivery was likely the to be the very last one ever. In the U.S., no passenger airlines placed orders for the 747-8i and no future orders are expected.

China Airlines

China Airlines Boeing 747-400 in Frankfurt(Main) International. Photo Schummchen (wikimedica commons: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Other operators

In total, as of July 2017, there 489 Boeing 747 aircraft in service for commercial airlines, according to Flightglobal Ascend. They are made up of eight 747-200s, five 747-300s, 370 747-400s and 106 747-8s and are sprinkled across a number of international carriers, with previously mentioned Lufthansa,Air China, and Korean Airlines as the primary operators new -8i. Other airlines like El Al, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, and Qantas still operate the -400 series.

Boeing 747 Freighters Still in Demand

Today,  747 passenger plane operators have declined. The numbers will dwindle further over the next few years. On the flip side though, there are still operators of the Boeing freighter, some brand new. Qatar Airways just picked up its very first 747-8 freighter. Boeing does not have direct competition for its freighters which boast a huge, cavernous interior. The company expects to continue to manufacture the freighters but only plans to produce about six per year. Even though the Queen of the Skies is going to be for the most part flown out to pasture, orders for freighters occasionally roll in. Additionally, Boeing says its other jets such as its 767, 787 and the 777 will benefit from the transition away from the 747.

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Written by Kim Clarke

Kim Clarke

Kim Clarke is a Freelance Writer and Editor, specializing in the aviation industry and financial markets. She freelances for McGraw-Hill Financial, Avgeekery, Skydiving.com, USAHotAirBalloons and more. Past journalism experience includes Thomson Financial, CNN and Clear Channel Communications.

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