Boeing hasn’t told employees, but the company is pulling the plug on its hulking 747 jumbo jet, ending a half-century run for the twin-aisle pioneer.
The last 747-8 will roll out of a Seattle-area factory in about two years, a decision that hasn’t been reported but can be teased out from subtle wording changes in financial statements, sources said.
It’s a moment that aviation enthusiasts long have dreaded, signaling the end of the double-decker, four-engine leviathans that shrank the world. Airbus is already preparing to build the last A380 jumbo, after the final convoy of fuselage segments rumbled to its Toulouse plant last month.
Yet, for all their popularity with travelers, the final version of the 747 and Europe’s superjumbo never caught on commercially as airlines turned to twin-engine aircraft for long-range flights.
While Boeing’s hump-nosed freighters will live on, the fast-disappearing A380 risks going down as an epic dud.
The grand jetliners also face another indignity: The Covid-19 pandemic threatens to leave their manufacturers scrounging to find buyers for the last jumbos built.
“As it turned out, the number of routes for which you need an ultra-large aircraft are incredibly few,” said Sash Tusa, an analyst with Agency Partners.
Boeing’s “Queen of the Skies” debuted in 1970, an audacious bet that transformed travel but almost bankrupted the company. Passenger versions boasted a spiral staircase to a luxurious upstairs lounge. Freighter models featured a hinged nose that flipped open to load everything from cars to oil-drilling gear. The 747 went on to rack up 1,571 orders over the decades -- second among wide-body jets only to Boeing’s 777.
Boeing has lost about $40m (€35m) for each 747 since 2016, when it slowed production to a trickle, making just six jets a year. All told, Boeing has recorded $4.2bn in accounting charges for the 747-8, which has been kept alive as a freighter. The 747 notched its last order as a passenger jet in 2017 -- for Air Force One, the US presidential jet.
Boeing’s jumbo freighters will continue to ply the skies for decades after production stops.
But the coronavirus pandemic is hastening the end of the behemoths as people movers.
With travel not expected to fully recover until mid-decade, airlines are culling aging jetliners and four-engine jumbos from fleets to limit spending.
About 91% of 747s and 97% of A380s are parked, Credit Suisse estimated last month.