Why Tap Air Portugal Sold Its Boeing 747s

TAP Air Portugal is, aside from its regional turboprops and ERJs, an all-Airbus airline. But a few decades ago, that wasn’t the case. In 1972, two Boeing 747-200s arrived at the airline, joined by a further two a couple of years later. By 1984, no more 747s existed at the airline. Why did TAP give up on the Queen?

TAP Air Portugal 747
Why did TAP sell its 747s? Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia

TAP Portugal’s dalliance with the Queen

The modern-day TAP is a very European airline. Apart from a handful of ATR turboprops and Embraer jets, the Portuguese carrier is an all-Airbus operation. From its widebody A330s to its small A319s, it has not flown a Boeing since the last 737 left in April 2001.

But that was not always the case. Up until the late ‘80s, TAP was a very Boeing-led operator, and even flew the Queen of the Skies herself. TAP welcomed its first Boeing 747-200 in February 1972. During the rest of the decade, the airline operated four of these aircraft, flying mainly to destinations in Africa and New York.

In 1974, TAP was the first European airline to undertake major and complete overhauls of the Boeing 747 engines – the Pratt & Whitney JT9-D powerplants. Clearly, the airline was committed to the type, at least for a short while.

TAP Air Portugal 747
By 1984, no more 747s would be operated by TAP. Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia

By 1984, no more 747s existed at TAP, with the last leaving the fleet in October that year. Let’s take a look at why TAP gave up on the Queen of the Skies, and what happened to those jumbos after.

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The issue of independence

Although TAP flew its 747s to the USA, its main objective with these aircraft was to facilitate connectivity to Portugal’s colonies in Africa. In the 1940s, TAP began regular flights to Africa using its DC-3. It flew to both Luanda and Lourenco Marques (which is now called Maputo), a flight of longer than 15,000 miles that took 15 days with 12 stops on route.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and the jet age made these trips a lot easier. The addition of the 747-200s in 1972 gave it the opportunity to fly to these colonies in one hop, making it far easier and more convenient for passengers.

TAP acquired two more 747-200s in 1974 and 1975, but sold both in 1976 to Pakistan International Airlines. The reason for this sale was a simple one – 1976 saw the independence of Angola and Mozambique, reducing the need for regular air services connecting the nations to Portugal.

TAP Air Portugal 747
The independence of Portugal’s former colonies meant demand dropped. Photo: Ken Fielding via Wikimedia

The original two continued to fly for the airline for a few more years. However, low levels of demand on TAP’s long-haul services meant that, in 1984, the airline sold both to United States carrier TWA. Both saw another decade of service in the States, before moving briefly to Tower Air and eventually being scrapped.

TAP Air Portugal 747
One went to Tower Air briefly before being scrapped. Photo: Ken Fielding via Wikimedia

The 747s were replaced by a single Lockheed TriStar, which the airline operated until 1995. It may have been no coincidence that TAP acquired its first Airbus aircraft very shortly after the Boeing’s left. Its first A310-300 arrived in 1988, signaling a change of direction for the Portuguese airline and setting it on the path to becoming the all-Airbus airline we know today.