Boeing says farewell to ‘Queen of the Skies’ with last 747 delivery

(CNN) — More than half a century since the original big jet ushered in a glorious new jet era, helping millions of passengers make air travel affordable, the last Boeing 747 was delivered on Tuesday, marking the beginning of the final chapter for many. loved the plane.

In a ceremony broadcast online, the plane was handed over to its new owner, US air cargo operator Atlas Air, at Boeing’s plant in Everett, Washington.

Dramatically opening the sliding doors of the hangar, Atlas Air’s new aircraft was revealed behind flags bearing the livery of every carrier that has ever taken delivery of a 747. The company has 56 aircraft in its fleet.

One small, important detail on the last one delivered: a sticker right on the nose honoring Joe Sutter, the chief engineer of the Boeing 747 program who died in 2016 and is considered by many to be the “father” of the famous plane. Members of the Sutter family, as well as members of the Boeing family, representing company founder Bill Boeing, attended the delivery ceremony on Tuesday.

John Dietrich, president and CEO of Atlas Air Worldwide, thanked the gathering of Boeing employees.

“The impact of your work continues beyond the production lines,” Dietrich said. “It has fueled childhood dreams and career ambitions while driving global economies and supply chains.”

Boeing and Atlas Air Worldwide joined thousands to celebrate the delivery of the last 747 to Atlas, ending more than half a century of production.

Boeing and Atlas Air Worldwide joined thousands to celebrate the delivery of the last 747 to Atlas, ending more than half a century of production.

Paul Weatherman/Boeing

Dietrich also shared a flight plan that indicated the “747” would fly the new plane on Wednesday.

Celebrating the aircraft was a series of speakers representing companies that have relied on the 747.

“The 747 is a symbol of many, many things, and above all I think it is a symbol of a world that has been made significantly smaller by the 747,” said Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr.

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Actor and pilot John Travolta, who narrated a series of videos chronicling the plane’s colorful history, appeared to thank Boeing employees for “the most thoughtful and safest aircraft ever built.”

Although the last 747 will not carry paying passengers, its delivery marks another milestone for the distinctive double-decker “Queen of the Skies”, which revolutionized intercontinental travel while also appearing in James Bond films and even providing piggyback rides on the spaceship. .

With the last passenger 747 entering service more than five years ago, the end of the 747’s long career is now drawing ever closer, hastened by airlines favoring smaller, more fuel-efficient planes.

Tuesday’s delivery is a moment long awaited by the global aviation community. Aspiring airplane enthusiasts have been following every last step of the 747’s construction since Boeing announced in July 2020 that it was ending production of its one-off flagship.

Swan song

Interestingly, for an aircraft that was produced before the Apollo moon landing (it took to the skies a few months earlier, in February 1969), the Boeing 747 has a longer production line than one of its closest competitors, the Airbus A380, which was produced between 2003 and 2021.

It was the introduction of the European double-decker in the early 2000s that prompted Boeing to announce in 2005 the final version of the 747 design, which by then was beginning to show its age.

The B747-8I (or B747-8 Intercontinental), as this latest variant of the venerable juggernaut is called, turned out to be the swan song of large four-engine aircraft.

While the A380 is currently experiencing a resurgence as airlines rush to re-use the jets in response to the post-Covid recovery of air traffic, these giants of the sky are struggling to compete with the operational flexibility and fuel economy of smaller twin-jets. engine jets.

As of December 2022, there are still only 44 passenger versions of the 747, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. That total is down from more than 130 passenger planes at the end of 2019, just before the pandemic crippled demand for air travel, especially on international routes that used mostly 747s and other wide-body planes. Most of these versions of passenger planes were grounded in the first months of the pandemic and never returned to service.

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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 large flying passengers for years, perhaps decades, to come.

The largest building in the world

The 747 has proven more popular with cargo operators. According to Cirium, 314,747 freighters are still in use, many of which were originally used as passenger aircraft before being converted to freighters.

Features such as the distinctive nose-loading capability and elevated cockpit position that allows bulky items to be carried along the length of the lower fuselage have made it a cargo favorite.

Tuesday’s delivery also raises questions about what will happen to Boeing’s sprawling Everett factory, where the 747 has been built since 1967.

This facility was purpose-built for the Boeing 747 and, according to the company, is the largest building in the world by volume. Since then, it has been the main production site for Boeing’s 767, 777 and 787 wide-body aircraft (however, the best-selling 737 narrow-body aircraft is manufactured in Renton, another location in the Seattle area).

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Developments in recent years have shifted the company’s industrial center of gravity elsewhere.

In addition to losing the B747, Everett recently lost its 787 production line after Boeing decided to consolidate production at its plant in Charleston, South Carolina.

Boeing continues to produce the B767 Everett, a relatively old model with limited commercial prospects, as well as the B777, which is currently in low production, awaiting its new version, the B777X. However, the latter has been repeatedly delayed and is currently undergoing a certification and development process that is proving to be much longer and more complicated than expected.

US presidential aircraft

Although Boeing hasn’t revealed much publicly about what it plans to do with the facilities that housed the Boeing 747 final assembly line in preparation for the last big delivery. messages have appeared so that they can be used to operate the stored B787 Dreamliner.

Additionally, according to the same sources, Boeing may also manufacture additional B737s in Everett. This best-selling model is currently manufactured at another facility in Renton, further south in the greater Seattle area.

Despite the Jan. 31 fanfare, two more Boeing 747 deliveries are still pending — and they’re far from ordinary.

These are the two new US presidential jets, technically called VC-25s, even if they are popularly known as “Air Force One” (a callsign only used when the US president is on board).

These two planes have already been built, originally intended for the Russian airline Transaero, which went bankrupt in 2015. Both future Air Force Ones are currently undergoing an extensive modification program to prepare them for presidential service.

CNN’s Chris Isidore contributed to this story.


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