What Happened To Air France’s Boeing 747s?

With the news that Air France plans to retire its fleet of Airbus A380 aircraft in the next three years, one only needs to remember when they retired their other large aircraft fleet, the Boeing 747.

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Air France Boeing 747 in flight. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia

What role did the Boeing 747 have with Air France?

Air France operated their first Boeing 747-100 on the 3rd of June 1970, a few months after the debut of the aircraft with Pan Am. Air France deployed their first 747 on their lucrative New York to Paris route.

At the peak of their use, Air France deployed 52 different Boeing 747s, from the game-changer 747-100 to six converted 747 freighters (doubling the life of the passenger aircraft). Air France would go on to use all 747 types, the -100, -200, -300 and -400.

The aircraft was a dynamic change for the airline, that could now to direct flights to remote French holiday destinations well outside Europe as well as connect the city of lights with the rest of the world. It was a great equalizer; with such a large capacity, passengers could fly for cheaper than ever before opening up France to millions of people who only dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower and St Tropez coast with their own eyes.

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Air France Boeing 747. Photo: Air France

The Air France flagship 747-400 could carry 432 passengers across two classes, with business in the lower deck nose of the plane and the rest economy. The upper deck was reserved for Flying Blue members and offered economy seats with two inches more legroom, however, they were rare seats to get and were nearly always sold out.

The Boeing 747 would be the world’s biggest commercial passenger aircraft for 37 years, until the launch of the Airbus A380 in the 2000s.

Why did they retire them?

In 2016, Air France decided that it was time to retire it’s remaining three Boeing 747s, admitting it was “abandoning its last three 747s because they are just too expensive to maintain“. It slowly replaced its aircraft with the new (at the time) A380 and Boeing 777-300ERs. The freighter versions of the Boeing 747 were swapped out for the Boeing 777Fs. When offered, Air France decided to not invest in the type and declined to meet with Boeing to discuss the 747-8.

Whilst many will blame the rise of the A380 with far less fuel burn per seat for spelling the end of the four-engine 747, it is actually the increase in more frequency rather than the capacity that led to Air France choosing to retire the type.

The final Air France 747 flight took place on the 11th of January, 2016, between Paris and Mexico City.

“More than 45 years after the first flight from Paris to New York on 3 June 1970 by the aircraft affectionately known as the Jumbo Jet, the Company salutes with emotion the last flight of this legendary and easily-recognizable aircraft.”

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Air France closed the chapter on The Boeing 747 many years ago. Photo: Wikimedia

What do you think? Do you miss the Air France Boeing 747? Let us know in the comments below.

  1. Airlines that have retired their 747’s no longer get my business. I recently book a flight from LAX to Europe and did so on Lufthansa solely because they still fly the 747’s. I think passengers will soon become very tired of being crammed into smaller jets for long haul flights.

    1. 777-300ER is over 10 feet longer than a 747-400 and the 777 has a bigger wingspan as well. Seats are generally wider on the 777 and the IFE usually is at least a generation newer than a 747.
      It’s also a 50 year old design.


    2. The aircraft type has very little to do with whether an individual passenger gets more space or not.

      It all comes down to the operating airlines fitout and across the worldwide fleet, the space per passenger is very similar across all the different aircraft types.

  2. I believe that history will show the A380 to have been a huge mistake. Not ahead of it’s time, but behind the times. An example of poor planning by both Airbus and most of the airlines that took it on (except maybe Emirates.) IMHO, the A380 was a “horse designed by committee.” Prestige and ego were the prime drivers, not economics and not market strategy. The Boeing 787, 777X, and the soon to be launched 797 are much, much better thought out products. I hope Boeing can get past the MAX disaster (as much a PR disaster as an engineering disaster) quickly and get that good product back in the air. IMHO, better training and one additional switch is all that is needed. Also, IMHO, Boeing bashers are having an undeserved field day.

    1. A320 neo > 737max
      A350 > dreamliner
      A32XLR > 797

      Max is a dangerous plane, over engineered on a 50 year old design. It shouldn’t fly again.

    2. It’s always easy to judge with the advantage of hindsight. Every new major aircraft has a risk to it. And it’s not all bad. Airbus learned a lot from the experience, and did have the money to make that bet. On the other side, what many also called a bad decision, their success with the NEO editions was spectacular. Their a320 NEO forced Boeing to make a rush decision, and look where we are now with that! Back to my point, I’ll just say, you can’t say that such the decision to build the A380 was a bad one. In fifty years, we’ll know.

  3. The Boeing747 will remain the legend of all time – “Queen of the skies” Many airlines have and are retiring their Boeing747 fleet. Although the A380 has stalled the sales of the Boeing747-8i it has not replaced it…….today it’s about frequency and not demand…….but I believe the Boeing747 still has a place in this modern day aviation industry, look at Lufthansa, Korean, Air China. And in the Cargo world the Boeing747F dominates

  4. Yes yes A380 waste of money and time . I still believe in 747 queen of the sky awesome aircraft. Don’t understand why BA didn’t get 747/8

  5. Typo. “…time to retire it’s remaining…” should not have an apostrophe. It should be “…time to retire its remaining…”

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