The Queen Of The Skies Is rapidly disappearing from the skies
When you think of international travel, most passengers still conjure up memories of the iconic jumbo jet. The 747, with its famous curves, four engines and swept back wings, evokes a memory of regal air travel. While the era of luxury travel for most travelers is long gone, up until February of this year, many passenger 747s were still plying the skies.
Then the dreaded Corona virus (COVID-19) hit the industry. International travel was decimated as many nations banned international travel in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. In response to the unprecedented economic downturn, nearly every airline responded with drastic cuts to their schedules. Airline travel in the US was down 95% at one point in April. Although the numbers have started to trend upwards, major airlines like Delta, United, and American have cut their scheduled by over 50% and publicly stated that they have no plans to return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.
How has the downturn affected the 747 fleet?
As a passenger carrier, the Boeing 747 was already in decline. Major US airlines retired their fleet back almost two years ago. The only US airline still flying the 747 in a passenger configuration is Atlas Air. Your only opportunity to fly on one of their planes is via charter. With the exception of airlines flying the Boeing 747-8i model, most major airlines already had plans to retire their fleets of the jumbo jet. COVID-19 just accelerate those plans. Here are just some of the passenger carrying 747s headed to the boneyard:
KLM retired their fleet of Boeing 747-400 jets in April. Prior to COVID-19, they had anticipated that they would fly the type into 2021 but the dramatic decline in traffic forced them to move the retirement up by over a year.
Even before COVID-19, Qantas had plans to retire the jumbo jet by the end of 2020. The virus accelerated those plans. The small remaining fleet of 747-400s will be retired by June of this year.
Virgin Atlantic announced this month that they were closing their operations at London’s Gatwick Airport and would retire their remaining fleet of 747-400s immediately.
British Airways is the largest operator of the Boeing 747-400 fleet in a passenger configuration. The airline originally intended to operate the type until 2024. At the beginning of the year, they had 28 jets. They accelerated the retirement of 2 jets due to COVID-19. They are now looking at streamlining their fleet with a full retirement possible by 2021.
Where can you still fly the 747?
The good news is that up until 2016, Boeing still produced the Boeing 747-8i. This upgraded passenger queen still flies for Korean Air, Lufthansa, and Air China. While there have been rumors of each airline trimming their fleet, no airline has announced that they will retire their Boeing 747 fleets as of yet.
The Queen of the Skies will soldier on, especially for cargo airlines. Cargo airlines like UPS and AtlasAir have benefited from the decline in passenger air travel as cargo has shifted largely to their networks. Cathay Pacific also flies a sizable fleet of 747s in a cargo configuration.
The Boeing 747 isn’t dead yet, UPS ordered 14 jets back in 2018. Deliveries for that order are expected to be complete by 2022. No word on whether Boeing will continue to produce the aircraft. The backlog of deliveries will approach single digits next year.