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.

Why Did Air New Zealand Retire The Boeing 747?
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.

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.

Why Did Air New Zealand Retire The Boeing 747?
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.

Why Did Air New Zealand Retire The Boeing 747?
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!