The Boeing 747X – The A380 Alternative That Got Scrapped

Back in 2000, after much careful planning, the A380 project was given the green light. Boeing however, would quietly scrap their plans for an A380 rival, shelving them under the code 747X.

But could have Boeing made this aircraft work? How many versions of the 747X were created? And what happened?

Virgin 747 in flight
Boeing had plans to build upon the 747 design. Photo: Virgin

What was the 747X?

The 747X was a project concept of a bigger version of the 747. It would use a new wing (derived from technology created for the 777 series) and use the latest engines that would allow a bigger, heavier aircraft to take off.

Boeing actually tried twice to design the 747X.

The first time, in 1996 at the Farnborough Airshow, they released designs for a better 747X than the current model, the 747-400. The designs were the 747-500X, -600X and -700X. The -700X was so huge that the iconic hump of the aircraft might have been lengthened the whole way down to the tail.

The second time was in 2001. They designed the 747X and the 747X-Stretch. The first was a far more modest improvement on the 747-400 design (essentially a small increase in capacity, a reduced cost and modern engineering). The 747X-Stretch would see the 747 design increased to almost 80.2 meters long.

Qatar A380
The 747-700X could have looked much the same as an A380. Photo: Qatar Airways

Both would use the 777 flight deck and feature a 777 inspired interior layout. Freighter versions were also available. Neither got a lot of interest from airlines, and so they never made it off the drawing board.

What were their specifications?

Here are the specifications of the different types of 747X, with the A380 thrown in for good measure.

ModelPassengersRange
747-500X46210,000 mi, 16,100 km
747-600X5488,900 mi, 14,300 km
747-700X65014,200 km
747X43010,000 mi, 16,100 km
747X-Stretch5009,000 mi, 14,500 km
A38055514,800 km

For additional comparison, the 747-400 seats 416 and flies 14,200 km.

As you can see, the first three versions of the 747X were very big and would easily rival an A380. Boeing subdued their designs for the second iteration of the 747X, but still improved on passenger numbers and distance.

Why did it never go ahead?

Creating a new aircraft is expensive. Not only do you need to hire engineers, design the aircraft, build prototypes, and create a new factory, you also need to market the new product, launch it, paint it, and spend years bringing it to market. All up, it would have cost Boeing around $4bn USD.

In addition to the above costs, the aircraft themselves would have had a very high price, possibly more than the Airbus’s $445.6 million USD list price.

Lastly, Boeing carefully examined the market and determined that it could go one of two ways. Big aircraft with plenty of capacity flying between major city hubs (Like London, New York or Dubai), or smaller planes that fly point to point and skip the hub cities (Like Chicago to Manchester). Boeing ultimately decided that the later was the future and started designing aircraft for that purpose, like the Boeing 787.

BA 787-9
The 787 was lighter and had better fuel economy than the 747 design. Photo: BA

Many of the features developed for the 747X series eventually got used for the 747 Advanced, or better known as the 747-8.

What do you think? Would you have bought a ticket to fly on the 747X?

3 comments
  1. Yes, I would probably have flown on the 747X had it been made. I have always wanted to fly on a 747 but sadly never had the opportunity – even more upsetting is that as the years go by and airlines put their 747s into retirement, it becomes less and less likely that I’ll ever get the opportunity to fly on such a beautiful and historic aircraft.

  2. I am a retired Maybanker aged 58. I started admiring Boeing 747 since I was in the primary school. Once I saw, its really stay in my heart. Those days we used to call it ‘Jumbo jet’. To me its simply the best aircraft I ever seen in term of design, beauty, elegance and performance. No other aircrafts look similar to it. I remember flying with 747 in 1979. Only God knows how superb and confortable it is. I really feel safe and honoured to travel with this machine. After 380 went into service and many airlines retired the 747, I personally feel that this shouldn’t happen. I’m happy now to read that Boeing is making modest improvement on the 747-400 design (essentially a small increase in capacity, a reduced cost and modern engineering to ensure its existence.
    Long life ‘Jumbo Jet’ with the hump!

  3. We used to fly North West Orient Airlines 747’s from ANC to MSP in the 1980’s with 7 children. We flew Night-eye, smoking section. We were the only people back there, all nine of us. We would have all the kids tucked in the center seat section with the armrests folded up. All the sweets asleep before the back rush of the forward seat sitters seeking a bed at the turning off of the seatbelt sign.

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