The Slow Decline Of The Boeing 747-400

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The Boeing 747-400 is loved by many. However, its time is almost up. Following a gradual ten year decline in the type’s usage, the current COVID-19 crisis has largely drawn the curtains on the type, with airlines such as British Airways outright retiring a significant portion of the global fleet.

Boeing 747-400, Decline, 2010s
The Boeing 747-400 has been in a slow decline for the past ten years. Photo: Getty Images

Besides the tragic loss of life caused so far, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed many casualties within the aviation industry. Four-engined aircraft have been hit harder than most. These include the Queen of the Skies, alongside Airbus’ A340 and the giant Airbus A380. But just how far has the Boeing 747-400 fallen? Let’s find out.

Airlines retire the jumbo jet

It truly is the end of the line for the Boeing 747-400. Of the top ten operators of the variant in the past decade, only three are left to retire the iconic humped airframe. However, these airlines, Lufthansa, China Airlines, and Korean Airlines, are not currently flying their passenger 747-400s.

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Korean Air has two passenger Boeing 747-400s left in its fleet, according to FlightRadar24.com. These aircraft last flew passengers in February. FR24.com shows that China Airlines has four 747-400s remaining. The last China Airlines B744 passenger flight took place in mid-may.

Finally, FR24.com shows that Lufthansa has seven 747-400s left. Three in Hamburg, three in Tarbes, and one in Frankfurt. Lufthansa’s CEO Carsten Spohr recently commented that the German flag carrier would stick to its original Boeing 747 retirement plan.

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Boeing 747-400, Decline, 2010s
747-400 services have been in a steady decline. Graph: anna.aero / OAG

A gradual decline in services

According to an analysis of OAG data completed by anna.aero, The number of seats being offered on Boeing 747-400 aircraft has been in steady decline for the past decade. While over 80 million seats were available in 2010, this had dropped to below 20 million last year. Given the pandemic, tied with expedited retirements, that number is expected to be far lower this year, currently standing at just 4,000,000.

British Airways, IAG Cargo, Boeing 787-10
Maybe Boeing 747-400s are heading to the scrap heap. Photo: Getty Images

According to anna.aero’s analysis, British Airways was always offering far more 747-400 seats than any of its competitors. Indeed, over the past ten years, the British flag carrier has operated 75 million 747-400 seats, double that of German rival Lufthansa.

Thanks to the prior strength of British Airways’ New York 747-400 operations, accompanied by rival Virgin Atlantic, some 14 million seats were operated on the London Heathrow to JFK route over the past decade. By comparison, the domestic Sapporo to Tokyo Haneda came in second spot with 9.4 million seats thanks mainly to ANA with some help from Japan Airlines.

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Boeing 747-400, Decline, 2010s
Three of the top four 747-400 routes by seat number over the past ten years were on domestic flights. Graph: anna.aero / OAG

Anna.aero points out that despite Lufthansa being the second-largest 747-400 operator in the past decade, it has none of the busiest routes. Indeed, the first route featuring its Frankfurt hub (Frankfurt to San Francisco) clocks in at the 23rd largest based on seats available.

When did you last fly on a Boeing 747-400? Will you miss the type? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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