The 747 is a resilient aircraft, to say the least, with the type being in service since 1970. Despite many challenges to its relevance, the plane has continued to remain in fleets and captures the public’s imagination. However, the last few years and the current crisis has threatened the jumbo jet’s place among modern airliners. So who will be the last to fly the Queen of the Skies?
The end of the Queen
Boeing officially pulled the plug on the 747 program in July, marking the end of over 50 years of aviation history. The final 747s, all freighters, will be produced by 2022, following which production will cease. However, the end of production does not mean the end of an aircraft, and especially not for the Queen of the Skies.
There are currently two 747 variants in operation: the 747-400 and 747-8. The 747-400 has been in service since 1989 and recent retirements mean only a handful of carriers still operate the type. The 747-8 is Boeing’s last iteration of the 747 and came into recently in 2012, featuring higher efficiency and more passenger capacity. Both variants also have their equivalent freighters variants.
Who currently flies the 747?
Starting the 747-400, there are currently only five airlines operating the older passenger variant of the aircraft: Air China (3 aircraft), Korean Air (2 aircraft), China Airlines (4 aircraft), Thai Airways (8 aircraft), and Lufthansa (13 aircraft), according to Planespotters.net.
This year has seen many retirements of the 747-400 by airlines, including British Airways, Qantas, KLM, and more. This is primarily due to the plane’s age and the lack of need for high-capacity quad jets during the unprecedented downturn.
The newer variant of the 747, the 747-8I, has seen limited success in terms of aircraft orders. Only three airlines fly the plane: Korean Air (10 aircraft), Lufthansa (19 aircraft), and Air China (7 aircraft). While the plane might not be the most popular 747, it offers excellent efficiency, which has helped it survive this crisis unscathed, compared to the A380.
Last 747 operator
When it comes to the 747-400, the plane will likely be retired sometime in the 2020s, as airlines modernize their fleet. However, it becomes more difficult to estimate the retirement of the 747-8, many of which are just a few years old. Korean Air and Air China’s diverse fleets mean that they could be replaced down the line with relative ease.
By sheer scale, we could estimate that Lufthansa will be the last operator of 747 with its fleet of 33 aircraft. The German airline has made the 747 the flagship of its fleet as the larger A380 likely makes an exit. With planes just five years old, the 747 has a long future at Lufthansa.
However, regardless of who operates the last passenger 747, the plane will live on for decades to come. This is because of the freighter variant. The 747-8F is the highest capacity freight plane on the market and cargo airlines hold onto aircraft far longer than passenger airlines.
The 747 will continue to live on for decades to come in one form or another, a reminder of the importance and unique place of the Queen of the Skies.
What do you think about the future of the 747? Have you flown one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!