When Will The Production Of The Boeing 747 End?

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.

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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.

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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.… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »