After 53 years and more than 1,570 aircraft, the last Boeing 747 is scheduled to roll off the assembly line in Washington state on Tuesday to serve as a cargo plane.
The once groundbreaking jumbo jet with the distinctive second-story bulge is perhaps the most notable and popular aircraft Boeing has ever built. It was even large enough to carry the space shuttle from runways in California to its launch site in Florida. And it will launch a new type of spacecraft from Virgin Galactic as soon as next week after being launched under its wings.
The 747 was once the choice of the rich and glamorous and even royalty. Many films, including the 1973 James Bond classic Live and Let Die, have featured the aircraft or sets designed to look like the first class lounge on the upper level. The 747 still serves as Air Force One, and two aircraft already assembled are currently being converted into the next generation of the presidential jet. These aircraft will not be delivered for at least four years due to delays.
Aside from that service, the 747 is now almost completely past its days as a passenger airliner. Airlines have said goodbye to four-engine, fuel-guzzling aircraft like the 747. Rival Airbus (EADSF) discontinued its own two-story jumbo jet, the A380, in 2019.
Boeing had signaled in 2020 that it would also stop building the 747 in its freighter form, as customers either bought the more fuel-efficient 777 Freighter or saved money by converting former 747 passenger jets into freighters. It hasn’t announced plans for the Everett, Wash. factory yet. where it built the 747 but expects to keep it open.
Boeing has not built a passenger version of the plane since the last 747 was delivered to Korean Airlines in 2017. This final 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 flown to another Boeing workshop for painting and other final details before being delivered to Atlas early next year.
Today, only 44 passenger versions of the 747 remain in service, according to aeronautical analysis firm Cirium. More than half of them – 25 – are flown by Lufthansa.
That total is down from more than 130 in passenger service at the end of 2019, just before the pandemic crippled demand for air travel, particularly on international routes that primarily used the 747 and other widebody aircraft. Most of these passenger versions of the jets were grounded during the early months of the pandemic and never returned to service.
However, according to Cirium, 314,747 freighters are still in service, many of which were originally used as passenger jets before being converted to freighters.
“The 747-8 is an incredibly capable aircraft with a capacity unmatched by any other freighter in production,” UPS said in 2020, as Boeing signaled it would soon end construction of the jet. “With a maximum payload of 307,000 lbs. we use them on long, high-volume routes connecting Asia, North America, Europe and the Middle East.”
Boeing delivered the first 747 passenger jets in December 1969 to two airlines that no longer exist – TWA and Pan Am. Delta Air Lines (DAL) was the last US airline to fly a passenger version of the aircraft, also in 2017. That was the last year that the last US 747 passenger flights — both operated by Delta and United (UAL) — drew huge crowds of plane fans, a testament to its enduring popularity.
– CNN’s Jackie Wattles contributed to this report