Even though Boeing has ended production of the iconic Boeing 747, its freighter variant will continue to keep flying in the skies for a very long time due to its unique features and long-haul capabilities.
- Even with the Boeing 747 production ending, its freighter variant will fly for a long time
- Second-hand market for 747 conversion are in demand
The end of the Boeing 747 production
In 2020, Boeing quietly announced the end of the Boeing 747 program due to a lack of orders, with New York-based Atlas Air being the last customer to receive the last Boeing 747 aircraft, the 747-8 Freighter in 2022.
Once the last 747 is rolled off the line, the factory floor it currently occupies will be converted into a 777X production line.
Perhaps it is time to let the Queen of the skies as most have dubbed it, fly off into the sunset since its roll-out from the factory in 1968 with Boeing’s first-ever 747 aircraft, the Boeing 747-100. Spawning five generations from it, each model was successful in terms of sales and its passenger and airlines praising it.
What Boeing was unaware that an aircraft model that is revealed in 1994 would take the world by storm. The Boeing 777 twin-engine family, with a range of up to 8,555 nautical miles and can carry up to 368 passengers, was an instant hit with airlines for its twin-engine efficiencies and modern cockpit instruments. Airline orders were in the triple-digit range as it was just the right aircraft at the right time.
It was soon followed by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in 2004 and a re-engineered Boeing 777X in 2013, boosting the number of twin-engine aircraft in the world and sealing the fate of the 747 programs, with its current generation, the Boeing 747-8 variant launched in 2005 managing to sell only 155 aircraft.
COVID-19 accelerated its retirement
To this day, most airlines are still flying the Boeing 777 aircraft while the number of 747s in passenger service continues to dwindle. Newer aircrafts such as the Airbus A350 XWB, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and the upcoming 777X are taking over the iconic jumbo role.
With more and more passengers in this modern time preferring to travel directly to their destination over a multi-stop journey, there wasn’t a need to fly a very big aircraft unless airlines are flying into slot restricted airports such as London Heathrow and Los Angeles.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both retired the Boeing 747-400 in 2020 in favor of the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 as passenger traffic remains depressed and airlines are forced to reduce their fleet temporarily while taking advantage of the situation to evaluate the future of the fleet.
Being the freighter workhorse
Almost all airlines operate the Boeing 747 freighter either from a converted passenger aircraft or direct purchase. With its four-engine operation and its large volumetric space for cargo, it can fly more cargo on a single flight over a long distance instead of using 2 smaller aircraft.
One unique feature about the aircraft is that the nose section can be opened to allow longer cargo to be loaded onto it without having to break up the load. Due to this, cargo airlines such as UPS and FedEx fully utilize the Boeing 747 fleet extensively.
We will definitely see a long life in the Boeing 747 as a freighter as cargo volumes continue to increase year on year. It will come to a time where a more suitable aircraft, likely the Airbus A350F or the Boeing 777X will replace it (not the A380 though).