Last updated: 07:17 PM ET, Wed April 13 2016

Don’t Dismiss the Boeing 747 Just Yet

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | April 11, 2016

Don’t Dismiss the Boeing 747 Just Yet

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

On Thursday, an anonymous airline placed a surprising order for four Boeing 747-8i aircraft, extending the life of the “Queen of the Skies” just a little bit longer. Since its inception, Boeing’s latest incarnation of the beloved, humpbacked jet has not been a big seller, which has forced the 100 year old manufacturer to repeatedly slow down the production rate.

Ironically, it is Boeing’s other planes that are cannibalizing the 747. The 747 has been updated recently, with brand new engines, and aerodynamic improvements, but because it was beat to market by the behemoth Airbus A380, Boeing lost out on scores of potential orders. The aerospace company thought airlines no longer wanted a four-engined jet, because they’re viewed as less efficient and more maintenance-intensive — thereby more expensive to operate.

The next generation of Boeing’s twin-engined 777 is in development. There will be two sizes of the newest 777, the 777-8 and the 777-9. The -8 will seat 350-375, and the stretched -9 will seat 400-425. Lufthansa only seats 362 in its 747-8. The smaller of the two new 777s will have a range of 8,700 nautical miles. Many airlines that once flew the 747 have opted to order the newest 777 as a replacement over the 747-8, which has a range of only 8,000 miles. Its biggest competitor, the A380, has a range of 8,300 miles. Though the 747-8i has three airline customers (Air China, Korean Air, and Lufthansa) the freighter version of the plane has received many more orders.

READ MORE: Why Will the New Air Force One Be a 747 and Not a Dreamliner?

The 747 is one of the world’s most famous and recognizable aircraft, for its unique hump on the forward part of the fuselage. When it was originally designed, the upper deck hump was intended to be a lounge for passengers, but over time, airlines have chosen to fill that area with First or Business Class seats. The hump on the 747-8i is the longest it has ever been, extending nearly halfway down the fuselage.

While airlines are pulling record profits, the manufacturing industry is equally cyclical. Last week, Boeing’s Commercial Airplane division announced a planned workforce cut of 4,000 jobs in the Puget Sound region by this June. Among the cuts will be hundreds of executives and managers. Spokesman Doug Alder said the company is hoping to avoid involuntary layoffs, and up to 1,600 may be offered buyout packages. The Seattle Times said Boeing may reduce the workforce by roughly 8,000 jobs, or roughly 10 percent this year.

The 747 isn’t really going anywhere anytime soon. Although they have been flying since 1969, they’re still being built, even if it’s at a very slow rate. It was the first wide body aircraft to reach 1,500 deliveries. The anonymous order will probably go to one of the three airlines that already has them in its fleet, because it would seem silly to add a brand new aircraft type to your fleet with only four planes. Whoever made that incognito order will have this workhorse around for a while — Each newly-built plane will fly for 20-plus years.

READ MORE: Boeing Forecast Projects More Than 38,000 New Planes Needed by 2034

The most beautiful 747 ever is still on the drawing board with the U.S. Air Force, which plans to buy three 747-8s to use as the next generation presidential aircraft. The current planes used by the president are second-generation 747s, the 747-200. These two planes entered service in 1993, and are continually requiring more and more maintenance to keep them flying.


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