- The Boeing 747 jumbo jet’s days as a passenger plane are numbered. In fact, Boeing admits that the future of the 747 is as a cargo plane.
- Over the past few years, many 747 operators have either retired or made plans to retire their jumbo jet fleets.
- Airlines have elected to go with smaller aircraft from Airbus and Boeing.
The jumbo jet’s days as a passenger plane are numbered. The Boeing 747, once the go-to passenger jet for airlines around the world, is destined to live out its days as a cargo jet.
“The future of the 747 is in the cargo business,” Boeing vice president of marketing Randy Tinseth told Business Insider at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow.
According to Boeing, of 42,730 passenger jets customers are expected to order over the next 20 years, only 60 will be aircraft similar in size to the jumbo jet. That works out to three Boeing 747-8s or Airbus A380s a year.
And even then, they are mostly expected to be VIP transports, Tinseth said.
Through July, Boeing has just 22 unfilled orders for the 747 and all of them are for the cargo variant.
Over the past decade, Boeing did manage to sell 47 747-8 Intercontinental passenger jets that are currently in service with Air China, Korean Air, and Lufthansa.
Korean Air and Lufthansa operate both the Boeing 747 and the rival A380 Superjumbo.
According to Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr, the decision operate the 747 instead of smaller aircraft has to do with the amount of room the plane affords its premium cabin.
“No airline in the world sells as many premium seats as Lufthansa,” Spohr told us in a recent interview. “When we talk about an XL aircraft, we need 100 first and business class seats which nobody else has.”
“That’s why we operate the 747-8 on routes where others operate the (Boeing) 777,” Spohr added.
Unfortunately, there are way more airlines retiring their 747 fleets than there are adding to them. Last year, both Delta and United Airlines sent their ageing 747 fleets to the scrap yard – marking the first time in nearly five decades that no US network carrier will fly passengers in a jumbo jet.
Smaller and more affordable twin-jets like the Boeing 777 have taken over as the industry’s passenger-carrying workhorses. Their ability to deliver great range and performance at a fraction of the 747’s operating cost make them virtually unbeatable.
The Boeing 747-8I lists for $US402.9 million while the 747-8F is a few hundred grand more at $US403.6 million.
Sadly, this means the writing is on the wall. The Queen of the Skies will likely go out with a whimper rather than a bang. Here’s a closer look at the planes airlines are using to replace the Boeing 747 jumbo jet:
1. Boeing 777: The Boeing 777-200’s debut in 1995 marked the beginning of the end of the jumbo jet.
However, it is the arrival of 777-300ER in 2002 that really sealed the deal. The 300ER can hold as many as 550 passengers with a range of up to 8,500 miles.
… Air New Zealand,…
… Japan Airlines,…
…Air France, and…
…KLM have all selected the 777-300ER to take over the 747’s former routes.
2. Boeing 787 Dreamliner: The Dreamliner represents a new generation of carbon composite airliners. With room for as many as 330 passengers, the Dreamliner is much smaller than the 747. However, its superior fuel economy allows airlines to offer greater flight frequencies.
Airlines that have used the Deamliner in place of the 747 include Qantas and…
3. Airbus A350XWB: Like the Boeing Dreamliner, the A350 is also among the new generation of fuel-efficient composite airliners. Unlike the 787, the A350 is similar in size to the larger Boeing 777.
Delta chose to replace many of its 747 routes with a fleet of new A350-900 airliners while…
… Virgin Atlantic is expected to replace its 747s with the A350-1000.
4. Airbus A380: The Airbus A380 is, itself, in peril of being replaced. The Superjumbo has struggled to find new buyers in recent years. However, during its early days, the A380 served as a modern replacement for ageing 747-400.
Both Air France and…
….Singapore Airlines used the A380 to take over routes once operated by the Boeing 747-400.
5. Boeing 777X: The 777X is Boeing’s next-generation flagship jet. It is, in fact, designed to be the 747’s direct successor atop the company’s product lineup.
“The big aeroplane of the future for the aviation industry is going to be the Boeing 777-9X,” said Boeing’s Tinseth. “It carries 400 passengers. It flies further than the 747 and the A380 does today.”
The Boeing 777X is expected to enter service in 2020.
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