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.