End of an Era for Global Aviation
Boeing handed over its last B747-8i aircraft in a ceremony to US air cargo operator Atlas Air on January 31st, at Boeing's plant in Everett, Washington, from which, the company has delivered more than 1574 aircraft.
With the union of former Boeing CEO Bill Allen and Pan American World Airways director Juan Trippe in 1965, along with the success of Pan Am's first launch of commercial jet service with a B707, the beginning of this successful career, which resulted in the first commercial service of the B747 on January 21st 1970 on Pan Am's New York-London route.
Beginning its construction in 1967 and introduced at the Paris Air show in 1969, it was the first two-aisle aircraft to revolutionize the world of commercial flight, furthermore, the responsibility of transporting more than six American presidents from 1990 to today, up to a space shuttle, gave this project the responsibility not only of being one of the most important and largest in its construction, but also of taking aviation into a new and glamorous era.
The B747-8 Intercontinental, as this latest variant of the venerable jumbo jet is called, is considered by a large number of businessmen and high-level representatives in the aviation industry as "the most well thought-out and safest aircraft ever built". in addition to a representation "of the power of the human spirit."
With the last passenger B747 entering service more than five years ago, and since Boeing's announcement in July 2020 that it would stop producing its only flagship, its demise has been hastened by airlines shifting their preferences from larger jets. However, for an aircraft that predates the Apollo moon landings (it took to the skies a few months earlier, in February 1969), and at its 500-passenger capacity, the B747 production line has outlived that of one of its competitors, the more recent Airbus A380, which was manufactured between 2003 and 2021.
Even though the A380 is currently enjoying a resurgence, with airlines scrambling to bring stored aircraft back into service in response to the post-Covid air traffic recovery, these giants of the skies are struggling to compete on operational flexibility. and the fuel economies of the smaller twin- powered jets.
As of December 2022, only 44 passenger versions of the B747 remain in service, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. That total is down from the more than 130 in service as passenger jets at the end of 2019, just before the pandemic crippled demand for air travel, especially on international routes where B747s were primarily used. Most of those passenger versions of the planes were grounded for the first few months of the pandemic and never returned to service.
Lufthansa remains the largest operator of the passenger version of the B747-8, with 19 in its current fleet and potential commitments to keep the jumbo flying passengers for years, possibly decades, to come.
The B747 has proven to be more popular with cargo operators. There are still 314 BB-747 freighters in use, many of which were initially used as passenger aircraft before being refurbished as freighters; Features such as the distinctive front-loading capability and the elevated position of the cabin, leaving the entire length of the lower fuselage available for carrying large-volume items, have made it a cargo favorite.
Despite the latest official delivery there are still two more Boeing 747 deliveries pending, and they are by no means ordinary. These are the two new US Presidential planes, technically called the VC-25, though popularly known as "Air Force One" (a call sign only used when the US President in office is on board), which are currently undergoing an extensive modification program to prepare them for presidential service.