When will passenger Boeing 747s finally retire? The “Queen of the Skies” is in her twilight years. Boeing has built over 1,500 Jumbo Jets since the type’s first flight in 1969, but now fewer than 200 remain in passenger service. And that number is set to dwindle rapidly over the next few years as older Boeing 747-400s are retired.
Orders for the current passenger version, the Boeing 747-8i, have dried up and only three carriers have them in service: Air China, Korean Air and Lufthansa.
So, if you want to ride in this classic airliner where should you look and do you need to hurry? Here’s a rundown of the main passenger Boeing 747 operators and their fleet plans.
British Airways is the largest operator with 34 Boeing 747-400s still in service. Some aircraft are being refurbished and are due to remain in service until 2024, but others are due for imminent withdrawal. The youngest in the airline’s fleet was built in 1999. Two aircraft are due to painted in retro liveries to celebrate BA’s 100th anniversary. Deliveries of Airbus A350-1000s and Boeing 787-10s over the coming years will replace the Boeing 747s. BA is not expected to order any further Airbus A380s and has never seemed interested in the Boeing 747-8i.
VIRGIN ATLANTIC AIRWAYS
Fellow British airline Virgin Atlantic Airways is planning to start withdrawing its Boeing 747-400s this year (2019) and replacing them with Airbus A350-1000s.
KLM has 12 Boeing 747-400s in passenger service, including eight Combi variants. The retirement date for the last of these to remain in service was recently pushed back to 2021. Similarly to BA, the Dutch flag carrier has ordered Airbus A350-900s and Boeing 787-10s as replacements.
Thai Airways is due to retire six of its fleet of eight Boeing 747-400s by 2022. It does not currently seem to have an obvious replacement on order but operates a fleet of Airbus A350-900s. These, though, are not fitted with a first class cabin.
Qantas operates nine Boeing 747-400s and has set a retirement date of next year, 2020, for its ‘Longreach’ fleet. It sees the Boeing 787-9 as the replacement for the Jumbo Jet. Like Thai Airways, their 787s are not fitted with a first class cabin. Qantas has also indefinitely postponed orders for eight Airbus A380s. Has it gone off four-engined widebodies?
China Airlines has four Boeing 747-400s for which it currently does not seem to have retirement plans. It also has no new aircraft currently on order. The carrier operates several high-density regional routes and may feel the 747 still has a role to play plying its way across the Taiwan Strait and East China Sea.
El Al, Israel’s national airline, is due to imminently retire its remaining Boeing 747-400s, replacing them with Boeing 787s.
Saudia has seven Boeing 747-400s in service, all operated on its behalf by Air Atlanta Icelandic. No retirement plans have been promulgated.
Iraqi Airways operates two Boeing 747-400s in a configuration accommodating 412 passengers on routes from Baghdad.
So, what of the three airlines with the Boeing 747-8i?
Air China has two series 400s and seven Boeing 747-8s in its passenger fleet. It also operates another Boeing 747-400 as a VIP transport for the Chinese government. Both variants are unusual in that Air China places its first class cabin in the ‘B’ Zone, between the first and second exit doors, instead of in the nose like most operators.
Korean Air has 10 Boeing 747-8is in service alongside two older Boeing 747-400s. It also operates the Airbus A380 and has no current plans to reduce either fleet.
Lufthansa announced plans to retire some of its Boeing 747-8i fleet in the mid-2020s, much earlier than originally planned. It made the announcement while still taking delivery of newly built aircraft from Seattle. This would see some of the newer variant retired at the same time as it finally withdraws the Boeing 747-400 from service. Replacement will be with the Boeing 777-9.
In conclusion, the passenger version of the Boeing 747 will be around for a few years yet, albeit in reducing numbers. Other special variants, like NASA’s SOFIA observatory, Air Force One and the Boeing Dreamlifter will doubtless keep the type flying for some years to come.
Does anyone still operate classic Boeing 747s (100/200/300/SP)? Iranian airline Mahan Air still lists two Boeing 747-300s in its fleet though only one appears to remain in service, exclusively on domestic routes. Are you a Boeing 747 fan as a passenger, crew or aviation geek? Any interesting Boeing 747 stories? Tell us your experiences below in the comments.