It revolutionized aviation and with its distinctive hump is still considered an attraction in the sky: The Boeing 747 - once the largest passenger plane in the world, celebrated as the "Queen of the Skies". But after more than 50 years, the US manufacturer is finally phasing out the legendary jumbo jet. The last newly built 747 was handed over to Atlas Air at a farewell ceremony at Boeing's plant in Everett, near Seattle.
Boeing had already announced in 2020 that it would end 747 production. This did not come as a surprise: the group had long considered scrapping the classic aircraft due to a lack of demand. The airlines now prefer smaller and more economical machines.
The giant aircraft had completed its maiden flight in 1969, and around a year later the first example went into scheduled service with the then US airline Pan Am. According to Boeing, the first 747 was built in less than 28 months and was the work of a total of more than 50,000 employees, who have since been dubbed the "Incredibles". The jumbo was - despite a troubled PanAm premiere in January 1970 - a great success. The 747, double-decker at the front, fascinated the masses with its unique hump silhouette like hardly any other jet and made longer flights affordable for the general public.
747 was considered a discontinued model
In total, Boeing built 1,574 747 jumbo jets for more than 100 customers in around 55 years. One of the most important of these was Lufthansa, whose boss Carsten Spohr gave a speech at the farewell party. However, the 747 has long been considered a discontinued model, most recently it was only built as a freighter version. This is also the case with the last example that has now been handed over to Atlas Air. With the latest passenger variant 747-8, which has a longer upper deck, new wings and more economical engines and offers space for more than 600 people, Boeing was only able to score points with a few airlines. Most long-haul airlines now use models that are not quite as large as the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" and 777 and the Airbus A350.
Huge machines like the Boeing 747 with its four engines are now considered by many airlines to be too expensive to operate. In addition, they can only be used to capacity on routes that are in high demand. The same problem also existed with the double-decker Airbus A380, which replaced Boeing's jumbo with space for up to 853 passengers after the turn of the millennium as the largest passenger aircraft in the world. In early 2019, Airbus management decided to phase out production of the jet in 2021 due to a lack of demand - just around 14 years after its first scheduled flight. However, the A380, which was mothballed in the corona pandemic, made a surprising comeback last year.
The fact that Boeing even tackled the 747 Hercules project in the 1960s was thanks to a handshake deal between then company boss William Allen and his PanAm counterpart Juan Trippe. "If you buy it, I'll build it," Allen is said to have said to Trippe. Actually, Boeing had applied with the jumbo for an order from the US military - but was outdone by rival Lockheed. The special design with the cockpit on the upper floor, which gave the 747 its cult character, was also due to the misconception that smaller supersonic aircraft like the Concorde would shape passenger aviation. The 747 was therefore designed to function as a cargo plane as well.
Air Force One is Boeing's prestige project
In the following five decades, Boeing's jumbo served not only as a passenger and cargo jet - a special version transported the space shuttle for NASA, another is Air Force One, developed on behalf of the Pentagon. This flying high-tech fortress for US presidents is an important prestige project for Boeing, but has caused a lot of trouble in recent years. Boeing had agreed in 2018 under ex-boss Dennis Muilenburg with then President Donald Trump to build the new Air Force One, but the costs got out of hand. In April 2022, Muilenburg's successor, Dave Calhoun, acknowledged that the deal resulted in billions in charges and that Boeing "probably" should not have entered into it.
Boeing manager Kim Smith described the last delivery of the legendary jumbo in an interview with the US broadcaster CNBC in Everett as "very surreal". "For the first time in more than 50 years, we will not have any 747s in this factory." The aircraft type will not disappear from the sky when production ends, but the 747 is also becoming rarer there. The US airlines United and Delta took them out of their fleets years ago. After the corona pandemic paralyzed international air traffic in 2020, so did Qantas and British Airways. There was only a limited revival of the 747 in the cargo area due to the recovery from the Corona crisis and the resulting shortage of aircraft - as experienced by the Airbus A380.