A History Of KLM’s Boeing 747 Operations

Over the weekend, KLM performed its final commercial flight with a Boeing 747 aircraft. After 49 years of flying the skies, the company ended passenger operations with the jumbo following a flight from Mexico City. This service marked the end of an era that saw the legendary aircraft transport KLM passengers on key international routes for nearly 50 years.

KLM Boeing 747
The special relationship between KLM and the 747 has come to an end. Photo: KLM

Grand beginnings

Shortly after Amsterdam’s new Schiphol Airport opened in 1967, the flag carrier of the Netherlands determined that it was time to place an order for a plane to match the hub’s ambitions. Therefore, KLM decided to go for the pioneering widebody with its 353 seats, which towered over the largest models in the airline’s fleet at the time.

747 Amsterdam
A head of a 747 at Schiphol before KLM launched the aircraft. Photo: KLM

The first unit to arrive was registration PH-BUA, nicknamed the “Mississippi”. This was delivered on January, 31st, 1971 at a foggy Schiphol airfield following a 10-hour flight from Seattle.

KLM staff members were put through their paces in the following weeks as the company prepared for its first 747 operation. The initial passenger flight with this jet left for New York on February 14th, 1971. This marked the beginning of a relationship that lasted nearly half a century.

The Dutch outfit was no stranger to long-distance travel by the time the 1970s hit. However, with its increased capacity, comforting appeal, and powerful engines, the 747 helped it continue trips to faraway lands such as Australia.

KLM 747 1973
A KLM 747 in its classic livery during an operation to Australia on February 28th, 1973. Photo: Getty Images

Well-rounded offering

Until now, KLM still operated 10 747s with three of them being freighters. However, according to Planespotters.net, the airline has held 46 of the widebodies over the years.

The smaller -200 and -300 variants were part of the fleet, with the 747-306B Combi joining as early as 1973. The larger -400 units were then snapped up in the 1990s. Routes with the plane were gradually reduced over the last few years, with Chicago noticeably being cut last fall.

Most recently, long-haul trips to destinations such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paramaribo, and Nairobi were still performed by the jets. KLM also named each of the planes after famous global cities such as Lima, Guayaquil, Nairobi, Hongkong, and Johannesburg.

KLM 747
The 747 is a master of long-distance services. Photo: Getty Images

End of an era

Altogether, the Queen of the Skies is an aviation icon and it will be sad to no longer see them at airports with the famous blue and white livery. However, KLM is not the only airline that has been considering letting go of its 747 aircraft this year. After trusting the jumbo to serve passengers over the decades, carriers have been looking at modern jets to take on upcoming projects.

KLM 747 classic
Plenty of memories have been made thanks to the 747 since it began operations. Photo: Getty Images

Simple Flying reached out to KLM for comment on its history with the Boeing 747 but did not hear back before publication. We will update the article with any further announcements.

What are your thoughts on the retirement of KLM’s 747 aircraft? Do you have any fond memories of flights conducted with these planes? Let us know what you think in the comment section.