Boeing just announced the definitive end of the legendary 747 as cargo giant Atlas Air places an order for the final 4 planes

Thomas Frey/picture alliance/GettyAn Atlas Air Boeing 747-8F.
  • Atlas Air on Tuesday announced a four-aircraft order for the Boeing 747-8F, the largest mass-produced freighter from the American aircraft manufacturer.
  • Boeing said that these will be the last 747 ever built as the program comes to a close after a half-century.
  • Demand for cargo planes has skyrocketed during the pandemic and the 747 provided the one thing most freighters could not with its nose loading door.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Atlas Air announced an order for brand-new Boeing 747-8F aircraft on Tuesday as cargo demand continues to surge during the pandemic. The four aircraft order valued at over $US1.6 billion based on current list prices will grow Atlas’ 747 fleet to 57 aircraft and further solidify the cargo carrier as the largest operator of 747 Freighters in the world.

The 747-8F is the largest freighter to be produced by Boeing, based on the 747-8i passenger jet which proved to be a flop despite a successful past for the aircraft family. Boeing debuted the first 747 in 1969 and while once a status symbol for the world’s airlines, the aircraft proved obsolete in the modern era once the focus shifted to fuel-efficient twin-engine jets that could fly just as far.

Boeing announced in July that the 747 would exit production within the next two years as dwindling customer demand made clear that the aircraft’s time had come to end. It was thought at the time that either UPS Airlines or Volga-Dnepr Group’s AirBridgeCargo would be one of the last recipients of the plane as the two had the most outstanding orders.

For Atlas, the 747-8F offers an additional 20% more cargo capacity and 16% lower fuel consumption compared to the 747-400F, of which the carrier has 34 currently. And compared to the 777F, the 747-8F offers 25% more cargo capacity.

“The 747-8F is the best and most versatile widebody freighter in the market, and we are excited to bolster our fleet with the acquisition of these four aircraft,” John Dietrich, president and chief executive officer of Atlas Air Worldwide, said in a statement.

Acquiring the final four aircraft gives Atlas the opportunity to fly the aircraft in-house or lease them out for other carriers to use.

Cargo airlines like Atlas have been hunting for more planes since passenger airlines cut their flying schedules and took valuable cargo space with them. Freighters that were retired and stored before the pandemic began were reactivated and passenger airlines began dedicating flights solely to cargo.

Read More: The president of Emirates reveals how the glitzy airline’s hopes have turned to shipping cargo to stay afloat as the pandemic ravages international travel

Amazon similarly purchased 11 Boeing 767-300ER airliners to be used as freighters for Prime Air as it takes advantage of the airline industry’s downturn to grow its dedicated fleet. Although millions will be spent converting them to freighters, they were likely bought for much cheaper than they would cost normally as the previous owners — Delta Air Lines and WestJet — no longer needed the planes.

But a cargo renaissance could not stop the inevitable end of the Boeing 747 program that’s played a vital role in the global logistics system in the past five decades.

“The seven-four will be missed,” Neel Jones Shah, global head of airfreight at Flexport, told Insider in a prior interview. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to miss most about that aeroplane is the nose door.”

Besides the 747, the only civilian cargo jets that feature a nose door are the Antonov An-224 Mriya and the An-124 Ruslan, both incredibly rare compared to the mass-produced Boeing planes. The jet was always intended to be a freighter as Pan Am boss Juan Trippe had figured supersonic jets like the Concorde would fly passengers while traditional jet aircraft like the 747 would be relegated to cargo.

General Electric GEnx engines with fan blades made from carbon-fibre composites exclusively power the 747-8F and offer a 15% increase in fuel efficiency. Takeoff thrust with the four engines is 66,500 pounds, according to the manufacturer.

And despite a published range of 4,120 nautical miles, according to Boeing, the 747-8F can fly journeys well over 6,000 nautical miles. UPS Airlines, for example, regularly flies between its Louisville Worldport and Dubai non-stop using the aircraft, though it’s likely the aircraft is weight restricted to maximise range.

The Boeing 747 will keep flying for years to come as cargo carriers will want to make the most of the soon-to-be-extinct aircraft. Passenger airliners, however, have quickly been ridding themselves of the Jumbo Jet with Qantas, British Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic Airways, among others, all saying goodbye to the aircraft in recent years.

Boeing expects the final 747 to be delivered to Atlas in October 2022.

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