Friday 24 July 2020

The Boeing 747 - fast disappearing

On the 9th February 1969, the first Boeing 747 ever built completed its first flight. Called the City of Everett, N7470 (CN 20235) took off from a brand-new runway at Boeing's specially built 747 factory in Everett, Washington. The first version of the 747, the 747-121, was originally distinguished by an upper deck passenger lounge with just three windows. Later, Boeing offered an option that replaced the lounge with more seats (and additional windows). The first 747-100 passenger flight was on the 21st January 1970, on Pan Am's New York to London route. Since 1970 Boeing has produced 1,558 jumbos in all variants. Less than a third of those are still in service today, while four of its five biggest customers are cargo airlines. The second 747 version, the 747-200, entered service in 1971. From the outside, it looked about the same as the earlier model, but it came with more windows upstairs, more-powerful engines and increased fuel capacity for longer-range flights. In 1973 Boeing built the 747SR (SR - Short Range) when Japan Airlines and ANA asked for a high-capacity aircraft that could serve their short but popular domestic routes. In 1976 Boeing introduced the 747SP (SP - Special Performance) the 747SP was designed for ultra-long-range routes that didn't warrant the full passenger load of a standard 747. It was 48 feet shorter than the 747-100 and carried 90 fewer passengers in a typical configuration. In 1983 saw the 747-300, the upper deck grew by 23 feet for the 300. Singapore Airlines, the first to take the new design dubbed its aircraft "Big Top. Though the aircraft enjoyed a slightly faster cruising speed, It had a short life when Boeing halted production in 1990 in favour of the 747-400. By far the most successful 747 version, the 747-400 entered service in 1989 and flew with  airlines like Air China, Air India, British Airways, EL AL, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air, Thai Airways, KLM, Qantas and Lufthansa. Almost a whole redesign, the 747-400's improvements included winglets, new interiors, longer range capability and a lighter airframe. With a new "glass cockpit" the flight engineer position was eliminated. The last plane was delivered to China Airlines in 2005. 694 were built. The last passenger version of the jumbo jet, 747-8 Intercontinental first flew in 2011 and entered service the next year (the freighter 747-8 first made its first flight in 2010). It has a new cockpit and engine technology based on the 787, redesigned wings and room for more passengers. A stretched fuselage also makes it the longest passenger aircraft in the world at 250 feet. It currently flies with Lufthansa, Air China and Korean Air and with a few freight airlines. Boeing is still building freighter models, but it expects to close the passenger version production line. Until recently British Airways had more 747s than any other passenger airline with 31. But since 2017 it has retired three and had already planned to get rid of the rest by 2024; the honour now lies with Lufthansa, which has 27. In December 2017, United Airlines said goodbye to its final 747 with a farewell flight from San Francisco to Honolulu (recreating the route of its first 747 service in 1970). Last year Delta followed suit, sending its last 747 to an Arizona “boneyard”. Not one US carrier now flies the jumbo. In the last two years Korean Air has retired four 747s, leaving 23 in its fleet – 11 of which are used solely for cargo services. KLM has also ditched 14, taking its total from 17 to 3. Even Lufthansa, now the biggest 747 user, plans to replace almost half of its jumbo jets with Boeing 777s by 2025. Of the other airlines listed above, it should be noted that Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific only use the 747 for cargo flights. Demand for the jumbo jet, which has been tweaked and upgraded many times over the years, has dried up. No new orders were received last year and in the last few years all new 747s have gone to cargo companies like UPS. As far as passenger services are concerned, the end is nigh.

Lufthansa announced in April that it is grounding five of its 32 747s, saying the move was related to their higher environmental and economic footprint. Our own Qantas accelerated its phase out of its 747s and the last one left Sydney yesterday, (and its A380s are off to the desert for three yrs)  Korean Air is only flying 12 out of its 23 Boeing 747s -- 11 cargo and one passenger jet,  Air India's four 747s are being used to fly VIPs and take part in evacuations. America said goodbye to the Boeing 747 in December 2017, when Delta, the last US airline to use the jet, retired the aircraft.  As of June 2020 there were 417 Boeing 747 aircraft in airline service, comprising of 10 747-100s, 20 747-200s, 2 747-300s, 257 747-400s and 128 747-8s.
The last order for a passenger version of the 747 came from the U.S. government, which in 2017 commissioned two of the jets from Boeing for use by the president, as Air Force One aircraft. The planes, a repurposed version of the 747-8 are scheduled for delivery in 2024.

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