The Qantas 747 'jumbo' has just two years left to live

suppliedThe last Qantas 747 will disappear from the sky at the end of 2020.

For nearly 40 years the Boeing 747 has been a mainstay of the Qantas fleet, but as the Australian airline enters an era of record profitability and looks to modernise its fleet, CEO Alan Joyce has called time on the “jumbo” jet.

Forecasting full year record underlying profit before tax of between $1.55 billion and $1.60 billion, Joyce announced the airline was buying six more Boeing “Dreamliner” 787-9s for its international fleet, spelling the end for the remaining 10 747-400s in 2020, ahead of schedule.

The phase out begins this July, with the airline now running four 787s, with another four due to come into service in 2018.

“This really is the end of one era and the start of another. The jumbo has been the backbone of Qantas International for more than 40 years and we’ve flown almost every type that Boeing built,” Joyce said.

“It’s fitting that its retirement is going to coincide with our centenary in 2020.”

The six new Dreamliners will increase the fleet to 14. Qantas began flying the 787 nonstop 14,498km to London from Australia in March.

“The 787 has better economics and a longer range, and its already opened up new routes like Perth to London,” Joyce said.

He added that Qantas is investigating new routes to the Americas, Asia, South Africa and Europe with the plane, which has the capacity to stay airborne for more than 17 hours.

The Dreamliner has around two-thirds of the capacity of a 747 (236 seats vs 364) but is 20% more fuel efficient and has a greater focus on higher yielding business and premium economy seats. Qantas has options on 39 more Dreamliners as well 99 A320 NEOs, but with capital spending stalled over the last few years following 2014’s $2.8 billion loss off the back of a $2.6 billion write down in the value of the international fleet, the planes have been showing their age and wear and tear.

The last time Qantas put a 747 into service was in 2003, so when the last one retires, it will be 17 years old. The airline is currently working on upgrades for its 12 A380 cabins. Two years ago the airline postponed indefinitely its order for eight more A380s – it’s now a decade since the first A380s came into service – to focus on the Dreamliner, and also invest in the science behind a better customer experience on long-haul flights.

The new planes will also dramatically reduced the average age of the Qantas fleet, which until the arrival of the Dreamliners was rising steady over the last few years to 10.6 years in 2018, making it the 10th oldest in the skies. That figure was ahead of the likes of Delta, United, British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, American, but well behind rivals such as Virgin Australia at 7.4 years and Etihad at six years.

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