This weekend has been a weekend of lasts. Throughout the world, multiple aircraft have flown their final flights for their respective airlines. Some are giants, known all over the world for their size and ability. Others are small, lesser-known aircraft. All were equally important to aviation and will be missed dearly.
United Airlines’ Last International Boeing 747-400 Flight
Then, the United Airlines Boeing 747-400. The four-engine wide-body aircraft can carry 374 passengers over 8,000 miles, capable of operating some of the world’s longest flights.
Nearly everyone in the U.S. knows the airline. United has, for nearly a century, been a staple of American air travel, one of the three biggest players in the U.S. airline industry.
The 747, affectionately called the Queen of the Skies, is well known the world over, if not more than United. The distinctive aircraft, for so many Americans, is emblematic of the so-called “Golden Age” of flying. So distinct and iconic that everyone in the gate area will lift their heads up to watch it take off, or even just taxi by.
Unfortunately, United’s 747 and SkyWork’s 328 have one thing in common: they both reached a milestone this weekend marking the end of their own era.
On Sunday, the United 747 embarked on its final international flight, taking off from Seoul-Incheon at 5:00 p.m. local time and arriving back at its home base at San Francisco International Airport around 11:00 a.m.
The flight, United flight 892, marks just the next step in a lengthy, yet emotional, retirement process for the airline’s 747 aircraft. After sending a few aircraft to Victorville, California’s aircraft graveyard over the weekend, less than five of the iconic aircraft remain, only to be retired before or soon after the airline’s final 747 flight on Nov. 7.
The final international flight did not garner a great deal of media attention. However, the retro-themed final San Francisco to Honolulu flight, which the airline calls “a nod to its [the aircraft’s] first-ever flight back in 1970,” will no doubt be covered extensively.
SkyWork Airlines’ Dornier 328
The SkyWork Airlines Dornier 328, a twin-turboprop aircraft that can carry 31 people a maximum of 1,150 miles, according to the operator.
Most Americans have most likely never heard of the aircraft or even the airline. To them, a rather inconsequential Switzerland-based airline with only 180 employees and the small aircraft are merely an afterthought. The aircraft is smaller than just about everything that major U.S. airlines operate.
Like the final United 747 international flight, the SkyWork Dornier 328’s flight would have gone off with very little publicity, had the government of Switzerland not announced they would not allow the airline to continue operations beyond the end of the summer flight schedule Oct. 29 without proving they had the financial viability to do so.
The airline had already planned to retire the aircraft this fall. As of now, none of their aircraft are flying due to a rather unceremonious intervention.
Etihad Airways’ A340-600
Additionally, another quad-engine aircraft saw its days at a particular airline come to an end over the weekend. Etihad’s last Airbus A340 quietly operated its final flight for the airline after it was announced over the summer they would retire the A340-600 variants this weekend.
“We want to invest in a uniform product, the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350,” Etihad General for The Netherlands Jean Paul Drabbe told a Dutch magazine in June.
Brussels Airlines’ Avro RJ100
Brussels Airlines also saw the end of an era on Saturday, as their final Avro RJ100 flight flew from Brussels to Geneva. The aircraft had been the backbone and workhorse of the airline’s short-haul fleet, but the airline’s newer and more fuel-efficient Airbus A320 family aircraft had pushed them to retirement.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ Fokker 70
Finally, Dutch airline KLM Royal Dutch gave a tearful goodbye to their Fokker 70 aircraft. The type comprised the final Fokkers in the airline’s fleet, and Sunday marked the first day the KLM fleet did not have any Fokkers since the airline began operations in 1920.
The final Fokker 70 flight, which operated a return flight from London to the carrier’s Amsterdam hub in a nod to the type’s first route with the carrier, landed at 8:30 p.m local time.
It was not just aircraft celebrating their final flight, but also an airline. German carrier Air Berlin saw their operations come to an end over the weekend with their final day of operations on Friday, after declaring bankruptcy earlier this year. The much anticipated and covered final flight came with tributes from passengers, pilots, photographers and enthusiasts from across the globe, as another airline reached its end.
Its final flight, a domestic hop from Munich to Berlin, was met at the gate by dozens of Air Berlin employees as they said goodbye to the airline they had helped to build and run.
For the vast majority of this weekend’s final flights, there was one theme on display: modernization. Whether it’s the 747 being replaced by newer, twin-engine Airbus and Boeing aircraft or the Fokker 70 seeing the more fuel-efficient Embraer aircraft take its place, these flights illustrate the change necessary to continue to progress in the always turbulent airline industry.
The A340, Fokker 70, 747, RJ100 and so many others got the industry to where it is today, but these new aircraft are poised to take it somewhere new. The end of these aircraft marks the beginning of a new era for aviation.
Though many are sad to see iconic aircraft — the classics — go, there are always new types ready to take their place and cement their place in the world’s fleets.