Boeing said goodbye to the “Queen of the Sky” with the delivery of the last 747
More than half a century after the original jumbo jet ushered in a remarkable new era of jets that helped bring affordable air travel to millions of passengers, the latest Boeing 747 was due to be delivered on Tuesday, marking the start of the latest chapter. for your favorite plane.
In a ceremony that will be streamed live online at 4:00 p.m. ET, the aircraft will be handed over to its new owner, US air cargo operator Atlas Air, at the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington.
While the last 747 will not carry paying passengers, its delivery marks another milestone for the Queen of the Sky double-decker, which has revolutionized intercontinental travel with appearances in James Bond films and offers seamless travel in the back. spaceship. .
With the last passenger 747 entering service more than five years ago, the end of the 747’s long career is drawing ever closer, with airlines accelerating their shift to smaller, more fuel-efficient planes.
Tuesday’s delivery is a long-awaited moment for the global aviation community. Ever since Boeing announced in July 2020 that it would end production of its former flagship, eager airplane enthusiasts have followed every step of the final 747 build.
The aircraft, registered N863GT, was shown in public for the first time in December when it rolled off the Boeing assembly line covered in anti-corrosion green paint. In early January, pictures of a plane dressed in Atlas Air clothing appeared online.
A small detail was not overlooked: a sticker near the nose that pays tribute to Joe Sutter, chief engineer of the Boeing 747 program, who died in 2016 and is considered by many to be the “father” of this famous aircraft.
Ironically, for an airplane before the Apollo moon landing (which flew a few months earlier, in February 1969), the Boeing 747’s production line surpassed that of one of its most recent direct competitors. , Airbus A380 produced between 2003 and 2021.
It was the introduction of the European double-decker in the early 2000s that prompted Boeing to announce the final version of the 747 design in 2005, which by then was starting to show its age.
The B747-8I (or B747-8 Intercontinental), the latest version of the famous jumbo jet, has proven to be a swan song for large four-engine airliners.
Although the A380 is currently being revived, airlines are rushing to return reserved slots to service in response to the post-Covid air traffic recovery, as the giants of the skies try to compete on operational flexibility and cost savings. fuel for small biplanes. motor currents.
As of December 2022, only 44 passenger versions of the 747 are still in service, according to aviation analysis firm Cirium. That total was more than 130 in service as passenger aircraft at the end of 2019, before the pandemic began, dampening demand for air travel, especially on international routes where 747s and other jumbo jets are largely used. Many of these passenger versions of the planes were grounded in the early months of the pandemic and never returned to service.
Lufthansa remains the largest operator of the passenger variant of the B747-8, with 19 in its current fleet and potential commitments to retain passengers for years or even decades.
Boeing 747 Jumbo: in pictures
The 747 has become popular with cargo operators. According to Cirium, there are still 314,747 freighters in service, most of which were used as passenger aircraft before being converted as freighters.
Features such as exceptional nose-loading capability and a high cabin position have made it a cargo favorite, leaving the full length of the lower fuselage available for carrying bulky items.
Tuesday’s delivery also raises questions about what will happen to Boeing’s sprawling Everett plant, which has produced the 747 since 1967.
The facility was built specifically for the Boeing 747 and, according to the company, is the largest building in the world by volume. Since then, it has served as Boeing’s primary production site for the 767, 777, and 787 wide-body jetliners (the best-selling narrowbody, the 737, is produced at another site in Renton, the Seattle area).
Developments in recent years have shifted the company’s industrial center of gravity.
In addition to losing the B747, Everett recently lost its 787 production line after Boeing decided to consolidate production at its plant in Charleston, South Carolina.
In anticipation of its new B777X, Boeing continues to build the B767, a relatively old model with limited commercial prospects, as well as the B777, which is currently experiencing low production rates, in Everett. However, the latter has suffered several delays and is currently undergoing a certification and development process that is much longer and more complex than expected.
Although Boeing has not publicly disclosed what it plans to do with the facilities that housed the final assembly line of the Boeing 747, the final delivery of the mystery is imminent. reports appeared they can be used to operate on stored B787 Dreamliners.
In addition, according to the same sources, Boeing may produce additional B737s in Everett. Production of this successful model is now carried out at another plant in Renton, further south in the Greater Seattle area.
Despite the fanfare on January 31st, there are still two Boeing 747 deliveries pending, and they’re not ordinary.
These are the two new US presidential jets, which although commonly referred to as Air Force Ones, are technically called VC-25s (a call sign used only when the US president is on board).
Both of these planes were intended for the Russian airline Transaero, which went bankrupt in 2015. Two future Air Force Ones are currently undergoing an extensive modification program to prepare them for the presidency.
This December 2022 photo shows the last Boeing 747 after it left the factory (courtesy Boeing).
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