Why Did Air New Zealand Retire The Boeing 747?

The Boeing 747 is unquestionably one of the world’s most iconic aircraft and one that has formed a proud component of most major carriers. But with Boeing having released three successors to the 747 in the 50 years since it was first released, and with other commercial jetliners available, some airlines are now choosing to look elsewhere.

Air New Zealand has phased out the Boeing 747. Image: John via Flickr.

Retiring the 747

One of these is Air New Zealand, which chose to retire its final Boeing 747 in 2014. The final flight of ZK-NBV touched down in Auckland on September 12th, having completed one last long haul from San Francisco. Air New Zealand had enjoyed a 35-year history with the type, but had now retired the 747 from its roster for good.

The primary reason cited for this decision is simply that there are more economical jumbo jets available today. No matter how classic a particular form of technology may be in the eyes of enthusiasts, the world never stands still, and Boeing’s 777 and 787 are now simply considered superior to the infamous 747.

This is reflected in the Air New Zealand operating fleet today, with the carrier boasting 30 Boeing aircraft in total, split between 17 B777s and 13 B787s. This represents over one-quarter of the carrier’s 115-strong fleet, although according to official Air New Zealand figures, the airline also has 21 aircraft currently on order.

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And the move to more economic aircraft can be considered particularly important at a challenging time for the airline industry, during which Air New Zealand’s profits have slumped.

Air New Zealand’s relationship with the Boeing 747 dates back to 1980, when the carrier purchased five of the revolutionary aircraft, largely to supports its plans for long-haul flights. While we largely take this aspect of modern life for granted, long-distance commercial flights were still a relatively new and rare phenomenon at that time.

Boeing has retired the 747 in favor of more economical jumbo jets. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr.

Critical role

Indeed, it is widely acknowledged that the 747 played an absolutely critical role in enabling air travel to become more affordable. It is perhaps ironic then that the Boeing airliner now finds itself being retired by Air New Zealand, with many other carriers looking to follow suit, as it is no longer competitive against modern jetliners.

Nonetheless, if the Boeing 747 is not held in the same reverence as it was at one time, it is not entirely defunct and obsolete either. Boeing has yet to retire its most well-known aircraft from production, and some airlines continue to use them. For example, Lufthansa still has an extensive fleet of 747 aircraft, and the carrier has no plans to phase out its 747-8I aircraft in the foreseeable future.

The Boeing 747 is an iconic airliner. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr.

Latest version

This latest version of the Boeing 747 was first made available for delivery just seven years ago, in May 2010. And this latest release has ensured that the 747 brand continues to endure, even if Air New Zealand has moved on to a fleet largely comprised of 777, 787 and Airbus variants.

Have you had any particularly memorable 747 flights? Do you think the newer Boeing models are superior, or can nothing beat the good old 747?! Let us know in the comments below!

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Gary

Was coming back to Australia from Frankfurt Germany in 2010.
When we got back in to Brisbane.
The immigration guy said how was the flight back.
And I said to him that I should of had a bronco saddle to strap on to the top of the 747 to see how long I could stay on for.
The turbulence was that bad that you was wandering when the overhead baggage compartment was going to crash done on you.
It was shaking that much.
I think it was either over India or Ukraine that this happened.

Chi

Why the author thinks NZ should keep flying 747?

Philip Toogood

The Korean Air 747-10 Business class upper deck window seat is superb…personal aisle access, privacy, side storage bins useful but more important create space between seat and curved window / ceiling. Seoul to London gets it and makes the day time flight very pleasant.

Lee Durham

Flew a few times on the jumbo ,great aircraft , struck by lightning on takeoff leaving Taipei once no problem. Working at auckland airport I had the privilege of sitting in the drivers seat when the aircraft was moved ,what a view.

Lee Durham

Loved the jumbo flew all over the place upstairs and downstairs, got hit by lightning on takeoff from Taipei no problem. Also whilst working at the airport I had the privilege of sitting in the drivers seat when moving the aircraft, what a view.

Sudeep Ross

I view the 747 like a vintage luxury car, and consider myself fortunate to have grown up flying on several airlines that owned it: British Airways, Air India, Lufthansa and KLM. But just like classic car makers had to evolve to remain competitive (Jaguar Motors comes to mind), so does Boeing. And as the Queen of the Skies fades gracefully into the night, her engines roaring and that unmistakable silhouette drawing everyone’s eyes and hearts, let’s tip our hats to the Boeing 747. Thank you, old friend, for so majestically leading the golden era of air travel.

Jim

I remember seeing multiple Air New Zealand 747s in Los Angeles many years back. Replacing this with smaller aircraft must mean fewer available seats, or more flights. A quick check shows two nonstops from Auckland, none from Wellington or Christchurch. Did the Air New Zealand 747s not fly full, or have passenger numbers dropped? Or did they switch some flights to other destinations?