The Boeing 747 is rapidly disappearing from the air, in terms of passenger use, following more than over five decades of dominance. As we wave goodbye to the Queen of the Skies, we feel it’s a good time to look back at the history of the aircraft, including its cost.
Getting the widebody off the ground
The Boeing 747 was truly a pioneer. It was the first-ever commercial widebody jet and opened up doors across the whole travel industry. Pan American leader Juan Trippe wanted an efficient way to place 400 passengers on one aircraft. Initially, he felt the best route would be to stack two single-aisle cabins on top of each other. Boeing’s engineers came up with the widebody solution, with a partial second deck.
However, in 1968, the program cost was already at $1 billion. This figure may not seem like a lot, but today, the cost would be equivalent to approximately $7.61 billion. The initial 747 rolled out of Boeing’s assembly line in Everett at the end of September, and the type conducted its first flight on February 9th, 1969.
The first orders
With Pan Am’s management heavily involved in the launch of the project, it’s not a surprise that the carrier was the first to introduce the plane. In April 1966, Pan Am placed an order for 25 Boeing 747-100s. The total cost of this order was $525 million (~$4 billion today). So, Boeing was already halfway to matching the cost of the program with this invoice alone. Each unit would have worked out to cost approximately $21 million (~$160 million today).
The -400 was introduced in February 1989 with Northwest Airlines and is one of the most recognized variants of the series. This model brought advancements such as increased range and wingtip extensions, which improved fuel efficiency by 4%.
The -400 is still in the skies today, with companies such as cargo specialists putting the plane to good use. However, the variant isn’t in production anymore. Therefore, if a carrier wanted to purchase one, they would have to look for a pre-owned unit. The average price for a used -400, factoring in a loan to cover it, is approximately $16 million. Overall, this is a fraction of the price of what a new unit once was.
It might look like a bargain to own your own historic aircraft. However, it’s important to remember the cost of deploying such a juggernaut. Aircraft Cost Calculator shares that, for 450 hours of flying a year, total fixed costs can amount up to $851,244, and total variable costs can reach $7,812,774. So, within a few years, the cost of running the plane would easily exceed the purchase price.
The last Queen
The 747-8 is the final ruler in the family. However, the model’s production program is also soon coming to an end. In 2019, a single 747-8 Intercontinental cost $418.4 million. Meanwhile, the freighter variant was for sale for $419.2 million per unit. Comparing the cost of the initial 747-100, the price of the 747-8 is lower after taking inflation into account.
The end of the quadjet
The 747 isn’t the only four-engine widebody that is being phased out by airlines. The Airbus A380 is also being retired rapidly across the globe. During the superjumbo’s production, it had a list price of $445.6 million.
Price, inevitably, became a significant factor in the downfall of both quadjets. However, it wasn’t the value of the airframe that started to deter people, but the cost of running such a behemoth. With modern, efficient alternatives on the market, airlines simply began to look at other options.
What are your thoughts about the cost of the Boeing 747? Will you miss flying on the jumbo? Let us know what you think of the aircraft in the comment section.