Delta Air Lines was the last company to retire the Boeing 747 to replace it with smaller and more fuel efficient aircraft
Commercial aviation in the United States has just closed one of its most illustrious chapters. The iconic B747, the plane with which Boeing revolutionised air travel, making it affordable for millions of people around the world, is no longer in service with passenger carriers of its country of birth.
Airlines now prefer lighter, more flexible and more efficient aircraft to cover the longer routes.
Delta Air Lines marked on Christmas Day the official retreat of the Queen of the Skies with a charter flight of the NFL Seahawks team from Dallas to Seattle. It was the culmination of a farewell six-city tour.
The 747 is being replaced with the A350 of the European Airbus consortium. United Airlines did it a month ago, recreating the route with which the plane debuted on a flight between San Francisco and Honolulu. The staff wore the uniforms of the time.
The two-story 747 first flew in February 1969, but did not enter service until a year later with a flight from New York to London for the now defunct Pan-Am. Then traveling by plane was a luxury and you smoking in the cabin was permitted.
The Jumbo, which could accomodate up to half a thousand passengers, opened intercontinental flights to the masses by cutting down first class seating.
First designed for cargo purposes, the 747 was quickly chosen for long-haul passenger flights, with over 1,500 units built over the years in its different configurations.
The domed profile in the cockpit area gave it a very distinctive personality. But despite its latest major redesign, the model is not able to attract even its most loyal customers.
Airlines now focus on smaller planes, which are easier to fill and cheaper to operate and as the last flight of US-flagged passenger B747 touched down, Boeing was involved in a buyover attempt of Brazil's regional jet manufacturer Embraer.
At the same time, Airbus has just closed an alliance with the Canadian Bombardier to assemble the new CSeries.
The long-haul routes left behind by the four-engined Jumbo are now taken care of by the twin-engined B787 Dreamliner, Boeing's most modern aircraft.
The Jumbo was the largest aircraft until the A380 entered service ten years ago. Her retirement reflects how far the efficiency of airplanes took over the last half century. The low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines has just announced a service to Hawaii from the West Coast using the new B737 MAX, the most popular single-aisle aircraft. Jetblue, meanwhile, is considering using similar aircraft to cover routes to Europe.
Although Air France has already eliminated the B747, it is still possible to travel to the United States in a B747 on British Airways, which plans to keep it until February 2024, in accordance with the withdrawal plan that was submitted a month ago. It is the largest operator of this model, with 36 units.
There are still 379 B747 aircraft in the classic configuration flying and 124 in the most modern. Of these, 236 are passengers. But the most modern models are 30% more efficient to operate. For an airline like Delta, United or British it translates into savings of several hundred millions.
Sales of B747s are still firseeable for cargo purposes, a niche market that allows the programme to stay alive.
The legendary B747 will also continue to be the plane that will take the president of the United States around the world. The Pentagon has just formalised the order to replace the two presidential Air Force One airplaned.
The new ones will enter service in 2024, the same year in which British Airways will withdraw them. It is a military version of the Jumbo, which incorporates the technology and materials of the Dreamliner. It is also used by NASA for scientific tests.