There is perhaps no better known shape in the sky. Four big turbofans and that classic forward hump – it can only be the Boeing 747. Introduced in 1969, the first widebody airliner was a hit with passengers with its wide roomy cabins. Nicknamed ‘The Jumbo’, it increased capacity on long-haul routes and helped to bring air travel to the masses with lower fares.
But has the Boeing 747 had its day? Sales of the latest version, the Boeing 747-8, have been virtually non-existent in recent years and only back orders for the freight version keep the production line going. Airbus’ behemoth A380 has been the Very Large Aircraft (VLA) of choice for most airlines in the past decade (though sales of the A380 have also dipped more recently).
However, over 450 Boeing 747s of all variants are currently in operation according to FlightGlobal’s 2018 World Airliner Census. Freighters dominate the larger fleets now, but there are still opportunities for passengers to ride on the ‘Queen of the Skies’.
LARGEST OPERATOR – ATLAS AIR
American cargo airline Atlas Air operates 39 Boeing 747s in a wide variety of variants – Boeing 747-400, -400ERF, -400F, -400LCF and Boeing 747-8F. The airline has multiple hubs including Chicago, New York JFK and Anchorage, Alaska and serves destinations on every continent. In some cases the airline’s Boeing 747 operate in Atlas Air colours for other carriers, for example Qantas Freight.
Atlas, of Greek mythology, features as the airlines logo carrying the world on his shoulders. The airline uses the callsign ‘Giant’ for its operations. Model makers JFox and Gemini Jets are among those offering the Atlas Air Boeing 747 in model form.
LARGEST PASSENGER OPERATOR – BRITISH AIRWAYS
British Airways has operated the Boeing 747 continuously since April 1971 when predecessor BOAC introduced flights between London Heathrow and New York, the inaugural flight being operated by G-AWNF. The first aircraft had actually been delivered a year earlier but an industrial dispute over pilots’ pay kept them grounded for 12 months.
First delivered in 1989, BA still has 35 Boeing 747-400s in service though all are due to be retired by 2024. Notwithstanding that, BA is busy refurbishing the cabins of some of the remaining fleet to remain competitive in the lucrative long haul travel market.
All BA’s Boeing 747s carry the flowing Union Flag livery though models are still available with the infamous ethnic tail fins. As you’d expect for one of the world’s major international airlines, models are available in all sizes and types from die-cast toys to high-quality desktop models.
LARGEST BOEING 747-8i OPERATOR – LUFTHANSA
Lufthansa, the German flag carrier, is one of only two airlines (the other being Korean Air) to operate both the Airbus A380 and Boeing’s latest, and probably last, 747 passenger variant – the Boeing 747-8i or Intercontinental.
They also still have a fleet of 13 Boeing 747-400s, the last of which is not due to retire until 2025. These versions have had their first class cabin deleted to increase capacity to up to 393 passengers. The last version of the first class cabin on this model was on the upper deck and each passenger got not only a seat but a bed – yes, a whole bed – to themselves.
Model makers Revell are bang up-to-date with a plastic kit in Lufthansa’s new dark (really dark) blue livery. There are a wide variety of other models in the original paint scheme including the ‘Fanhansa’ special scheme introduced for the FIFA World Cup.
SMALL NATION, BIG AIRLINE – CARGOLUX
Findel airport in the heart of one of Europe’s smallest nations is home to its largest all cargo airline, Cargolux. Starting out in 1969 with a single swing-tail Canadair CL44, Cargolux has a fleet of 28 Boeing 747s with an almost even split between 747-400 and 747-8 variants.
For an all-cargo airline, there is a surprising variety of models of its Boeing 747s including a Revell plastic kit and a Hogan Wings 1:200 scale model of its special ‘Cutaway’ scheme.
Kalitta Air only retired their last ‘classic’ Boeing 747-200 in April 2017, one of only a handful left operational worldwide. They now have a fleet of 24 of the Boeing 747-400 variant.
As well as commercial freight, Kalitta Air has contracts with the US Government. As a result their Boeing 747-400s can be seen at locations as diverse as Ramstein, Germany; Yokota Air Base, Japan; Kandahar, Afghanistan and Khabarosk, Russia.
Like Cargolux, an unexpected assortment of Boeing 747 models are available including some handsome, high quality desktop models.
That’s the top five Boeing 747 operators for now. I’ll detail others including Korean Air, China Airlines, UPS, Cathay Pacific and KLM in the future. Stay tuned.