After 53 years and more than 1,570 planes, the last Boeing 747 is set to roll off the assembly line in Washington state on Tuesday, en route to service as a cargo plane.
The once-revolutionary jumbo jet, with the distinctive second-stage bulge, is perhaps the most remarkable and popular aircraft Boeing has ever built. It was even large enough to be used to transport the space shuttle from the landing strips in California to its launch site in Florida. And it’s about to launch a new kind of virgin galactic spacecraft next week, after taking him under his wing.
The 747 was once the choice of the rich and glamorous, and even royalty. Many movies, including the 1973 James Bond classic “Live and Let Die,” featured the plane or sets designed to resemble the first class lounge at its top level. The 747 still serves as Air Force One, and two previously assembled planes are being worked on right now to be transformed into the next generation of the presidential plane. These planes will not be delivered for at least four years due to delays.
Other than that use, the 747’s days as a passenger aircraft are now almost completely behind it. Airlines have moved away from fuel-hungry four-engine planes like the 747. Rival Airbus
(EADSF) dropped its own bi-level jumbo jetthe A380, in 2019.
Boeing had signaled in 2020 that it would stop building the 747, even in freighter form, as customers either bought the more fuel-efficient 777 freighter or saved money by repackaging older 747 passenger planes into freighters. It has yet to announce plans for the Everett, Wash., plant. where he built the 747, but he expects to keep it open.
Boeing hasn’t built a passenger version of the plane since delivering the last one to Korean Airlines in 2017. This latest 747 will go to Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings
(AAWW), which will operate the aircraft for Swiss logistics company Kuehne+Nagel. Tuesday’s final plane will be transported to another Boeing shop for paint and other final details, before being delivered to Atlas early next year.
Today, there are only 44 passenger versions of the 747 still in service, according to aviation analysis firm Cirium. More than half of them – 25 – are piloted by Lufthansa.
That total is down from more than 130 in service as passenger planes at the end of 2019, just before the pandemic crippled demand for air travel, especially on international routes on which the 747 and other jumbo jets were mainly used. Most of these passenger versions of the jets were grounded during the early months of the pandemic and never returned to service.
But there are still 314,747 freighters in service, according to Cirium, many of which were first used as passenger jets before being refurbished as freighters.
“The 747-8 is an incredibly capable aircraft, with capacity unmatched by any other freighter in production,” UPS said in 2020, when Boeing signaled it would. soon stop building the jet. “With a maximum payload of 307,000 lbs, we use them on long, high-volume runs, connecting Asia, North America, Europe and the Middle East.”
Boeing delivered the first 747 jetliners in December 1969 to two airlines that no longer exist: TWA and Pan Am. Delta Airlines
(DAL) was the last US airline to fly a passenger version of the aircraft, also in 2017. It was the last US 747 passenger flights last year – by both Delta and United
(ALU) – attracted large crowds of aircraft fans, a testament to its enduring popularity.
– CNN’s Jackie Wattles contributed to this report