When Will The Production Of The Boeing 747 End?

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The iconic ‘queen of the skies’ has reigned supreme for over 50 years. Since its introduction with Pan Am in 1970, the Boeing 747 has found a home with airlines all over the world, and has won the heart of many an avgeek in the process. But, with just 17 aircraft in the production queue and no new orders in 2019, could the production of this beautiful aircraft be soon coming to an end?

British Airways BA 747
When will the 747 production end? Photo: Getty

The 747 slowdown

Once upon a time, the Boeing 747 was the staple of the long haul flight. However, it’s been some years since it was seen in the livery of a US airline. Delta retired the last passenger Boeing 747 in December 2017, but prior to that, it had flown for every single major American carrier.

In other parts of the world, however, it is still a fairly common sight. The biggest operator currently is Atlas Air, which owns a total of 36 of the type. 27 are operated as freighters, while just five are configured for passengers.

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The biggest operators of the passenger variants are British Airways and Lufthansa, who have 32 apiece. BA’s are all the 747-400, while Lufthansa’s are split between that variant and the newer 747-8.

Boeing 747-8, Lufthansa, Air China, Korean Air
Lufthansa has a mixed fleet of 747-400s and -8s. Photo: Lufthansa

These are not new aircraft either. British Airways’ 747s average an age of 22.8 years, while Lufthansa’s overall average is dragged down to 12.3 years thanks to its 747-8s averaging just 6.3 years of age. Its 747-400s, however, have clocked up an average of 21.1 years in service. Both airlines have mooted plans to retire the rest of their fleets by the mid-2020s.

2019 was the first year that Boeing received zero orders for the 747. It has had some near misses in previous years, securing just one order for the type in 2010 and just two in 2014. Despite this, seven aircraft from the order backlog were delivered last year. Just 17 remain on the books to be delivered.

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Will Boeing end production?

Despite the marked slowdown in 747 orders, Boeing won’t be stopping production any time soon. Passenger variants may not be a popular choice, but the aircraft has stimulated ongoing demand in another area of aviation – cargo.

Cargolux 747
Cargolux has a fleet of Boeing 747 freighters. Photo: Getty

The order book was buoyed by a commitment in 2018 from UPS for 14 additional 747 freighters, and it remains a popular choice of aircraft for shifting goods around the world. A UPS spokesperson told Reuters that the 747 is an “efficiency machine” for the specialist cargo airline.

Other cargo operators are also big fans of the 747. Cargolux has 11 of the 400F and 15 747-8Fs in its fleet, while Polar Air Cargo has seven and six for a total fleet of 13. Cathay Pacific flies 25 Boeing 747s, all as cargo carriers, while UPS itself has a fleet of 28.

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747 Cargo
The 747’s cargo credentials have made it a popular choice. Photo: Getty

The uptick in online shopping is only set to go one way. Despite the cargo industry being hit hard by the US-China trade war, there’s still plenty of demand for goods to be moved around the world. As such, the production of the 747, at least as a freighter, is guaranteed for many years to come.

Even just the 17 on the order books are likely to take around three years to build and deliver, and perhaps 2020 will see more orders for the freighter version from cargo airlines looking at fleet renewal.

Of course, there is one airline that’s shown an interest in the Boeing 747 passenger variant. Avatar Airlines wants to become a low-cost carrier with 30 747-8s in its fleet. If that comes to pass, it could secure the 747s future for many years to come. But, as the airline is not yet funded, we take that with a pinch of salt!

For now, at least, the 747 can hold its head high as it has long outlived its Airbus rival.

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Frank

The 747 entered service on January 22, 1970, on Pan Am’s New York–London route

Peter M Rodriguez

Boeing should come up with an updated version of the 747. Design new fuel saving engines and make it more ecofriendly. No doubt Boeing has the technology and resources to update this beautiful aircraft.

Mattia

Wasn’t her introduced with Pan Am at the end of 1969 and not 1979?

Thomas Holser

Excellent article, just one correction Pan Am introduced the 747 in 1969 not 1979. At age 11 I was invited by TWA for an exclusive tour if their 747 during its first visit to LAX in May 1969.

Capt Tom

Introduction
January 22, 1970, with Pan American World Airways, not 1979

I never had the pleasure of flying on a Pan Am 747 but I have on PeoplExpress to Cairns, Metro International to Athens, Air France to Paris, Qantas to Melbourne, Virgin Mia to London and a few others. I’ve flown 1st class, Business class and Coach. It’s still my favorite (well maybe not in coach)

Capt Tom

Introduction
January 22, 1970, with Pan American World Airways, not 1979

I never had the pleasure of flying on a Pan Am 747 but I have on PeoplExpress to Cairns, Metro International to Athens, Air France to Paris, Qantas to Melbourne, Virgin Mia to London and a few others. I’ve flown 1st class, Business class and Coach. It’s still my favorite (well maybe not in coach)

Joe

I believe the author meant large, international airlines, like Delta, United, American, Pan Am, etc. That was unclear, not factually incorrect.

Art

It is seldom mentioned. But in the 70s two aircraft battled for dominance of the wide bodies. The Queen beat the DC-10. I first flew on the Queen from SFO to LHR the year of 1976 (PAN AM).

Michael

The 747 is a beautiful airplane that you’ll never see again.

Gary Hughes

It’s kind of a obscure and ironic but nonetheless glorious existence of the 747. It was actually designed as a cargo plane as Boeing SST, was supposed to take up the passenger airline business. But the 747 did any incredible job up taking over for the failed SST. One needs only to look at the A380 from Airbus to see that. 50 + years is an astonishing length of time for one basic model of jet to remain in service and yes it is slow down but maybe not dead yet and it’s still very viable as a cargo plane very viable as that’s how it was designed. Boeing I sure had their recent c**k ups, as the British would say but they sure got it right with the 747 in all aspects. It carries a space shuttle it’s a fire fighting jet the military uses it. Props to the 747. And 4 Airbus I don’t really think you bit off more than you can chew you were just 20 or 25 years too late to take the bite.

Gary Hughes

The life of the 747 has been somewhat obscure and ironic it was originally designed as a cargo jet and that may be its saving Grace as it is very popular for that now Boeing SST was supposed to take up the passenger role but was abandoned. 50 years plus is an exceedingly long time for one model of jet to be in service and in one form or another the end is not in sight it has shrunk so I’m yes but it’s still very strong as a cargo jet. And what a diversity of service it’s still a very good passenger jet it has military uses it is used in fighting big forest fires it totes the space shuttle around across the country. Boeing has had its recent failures but the 747 was one piece of artwork that they got exactly right. Airbus you did not bite off more than you can chew you just work 20 or 25 years too late and taking the bite.

Parker West

Great piece! I loved flying the 47 on domestic routes including mainland to HNL as well as internationally. It’s one aircraft no one can take their eyes off and the greatest development in passenger aviation since the 707. Certainly Lufthansa is not planning on taking their 747-8I’s out of service by the mid-2020’s, I’m sure the author was only writing about the 400’s ending service with BA and LH.

Parker West

747 Important dates:
The first plane rolled out on September 30, 1968, less than three years after Pan Am had signed the letter of intent. Development costs to that time were said to exceed $1 billion plus the cost of the new plant. The first flight took place on February 9, 1969, a little past the target date of December 17, 1968, but still in time to meet the commitment to Trippe of a mid-December 1969 delivery for the first production plane.

Flight tests between February and December revealed several problems, the most significant with the engines, which were underpowered for the increase in weight and size that had occurred since earlier designs. The engine problem hadn’t been solved by the time the plane entered service in January 1970, and airlines experienced one delay after another because of engine troubles. At one point early in 1970, Boeing had some 30 planes parked at its plant that could not be delivered until Pratt & Whitney had corrected the deficiencies of its JT-9D engine. It took a year before the engine problems were solved. In the meantime, too little money was coming in, the country was experiencing an economic recession, and new orders were drying up. The company almost went broke.

Zaki

In December, 1978, first flew the B747 on PanAm Flight from London to Washington Dulles. PA 103, still remember. One can never forget PanAm let alone B747!!!

Zaki

In December 1978, flew in B747 on PanAm from London to Washington Dulles. Still remember that flight no, it was PA103. Can never forget PanAm, let alone the majestic B747!!!

John

Loved the Plane.. Great job!!!!

Vinod Bansal

Many years ago I read a great book titled ” Making of the Jumbo Jet” by Ken Bragga (sic) from my local library. I wanted to buy the book but didn’t have enough money as a foreign student. I have been looking for this book since and haven’t found it. I suppose it’s either out of print or the title and/or writer’s name is wrong. Does anybody else remember reading this book? Any clues where can I find it? Thank you.

BOB MORRIS

As a BOAC employee I remember going inside the first ones delivered. They didnt have seats just the galleys and seemed massive inside compared with Boeing 707 and VC10. Since then I have regularly flown on all types that BA operated. Even as recent as the past 12 months. In making comparison with the A380, Dreamliner, A350 give me a 747 every time. They may be noisier but they feel much stronger and tgerefiremore comfortable.

PatCookinAK

My first 747 WOW experience was in 1967. Studying Transportation Management at the UofOR we were invited to Boeing to see the interior mock-up and hear a presentation on the economics of design.

Murph the Surf

The year was 1969-1970. I was a college student in Kansas. The 747 has just been introduced. TWA used Salina Municipal Airport to train its 747 pilots, they would do nighttime touch-and-goes. Being a former air force base, the Salina runways were of appropriate length and strength for the jumbo jet. Of course, me and my buddies had to get closer…and these were the days of easily-breached security and easy trespassing, especially a smaller municipal airport. So, under cover of darkness we would sneak out very, very close to the runways and lie in the grass areas adjacent to the runways and be scared to death as these behemoths would roar by…the sight and sound is with me still and I have bonded to this aircraft ever since then. And no, we were never caught out there!

Gary Leech

August 8, 1969…The B747 was flown from PAE to Abbotsford BC for the Air Show there. After the 747 performed a high speed pass and a low and slow fly by my friend took off in his Midget Mustang as part of the airshow. He was flipped by the wing vortexes and crashed on the runway, killing him. It was a joyous occasion seeing the first 747 but unfortunately it ended tragically killing 20 year old Scott Nelskog. My Dad later went on to fly the 747 for Braniff.

Chuck Luettgerodt

I fly to Europe quite often and mostly fly with British Airways on their 747’s across the pond. It is a far superior aircraft compared to the 777 or chosen Airbus for this mission. The BA staff is also far superior compared to other airlines I have flown to Europe with. The Boeing 747-800 is hard to beat for long range passenger comfort. Even the -400 is not bad. I prefer BA and their fleet of 747’s, for flight 48 and 49. Unfortunatley, you’re most likely to get a 777 now days.