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The first Boeing 747-400 at the company’s manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash. (Photo: Boeing)

Reports: Boeing Set to End 747 Production

“Boeing has not told employees, but the company is pulling the plug on its 747 jumbo jet, ending a half-century run. The last 747-800 will roll out of a Seattle area factory in about two years,” reported Bloomberg on Thursday citing people familiar with the matter. The last 747-8 will roll out of a Seattle area factory in about two years according to the report.

This will mark a milestone for commercial aviation as the era of jumbo jet production will end when the affectionately-nicknamed ‘Queen of the Skies’ will no longer be produced after a 50-year long operating period.

“At a build rate of 0.5 airplanes per month, the 747-8 program has more than two years of production ahead of it in order to fulfill our current customer commitments,” a Boeing spokesman told Reuters.

“We will continue to make the right decisions to keep the production line healthy and meet customer needs,” continued the spokesman.

The Boeing 747 has been the icon of aviation par excellence since entering service with Pan Am on Jan. 22, 1970. But after more than 50 years in the skies, it has fallen from favor as airlines started to opt for smaller and more cost-effective aircraft like the 787, 777X and Airbus’ A350. The 747 is still being built, but only as a freighter.  Additionally, the 747-8, the latest version of the jumbo jet, has not become a commercial success. Boeing managed to sell only 47 of the 747-800 passenger version and 107 of the freight version.

The fate of the iconic aircraft was already sealed in 2019 when the Triumph Group started to dismantle its plant in Hawthorne, Calif., where the 747 fuselages were manufactured.  With the withdrawal of the group from the program, Boeing lost a long-standing supplier that had been providing fuselage components for the 747 since Pan Am’s first order in 1966. Since then, Triumph had been instrumental in building each of the over 1,500 jumbo jets. The closure of the factory in Hawthorne posed a key question with regard to the 747 program. Is it worth continuing the production of the aircraft and to produce the 52-meter-long fuselage components itself in the future?

Boeing Planned the End of  the 747 Long Ago

However, Boeing apparently had already prepared for the end of 747 production as the manufacturer was considering taking over the Triumph plant in Hawthorne in 2016 but eventually gave up this idea due to economic reasons.

There are 16 unfilled orders for the 747-8 in the backlog, all of which are freighters. Three will head to Volga Dnepr UK and 13 for UPS. For all unfilled 747-8 orders, the Triumph Group pre-produced fuselages before the lights went out in the factory.

In order to keep the production line running for the next three years with this order backlog, Boeing has reduced the production rate to 0.5 jumbo jets per month and also to create a time window for possible further orders. However, the aerospace giant failed to log new orders for the aircraft except for UPS that placed an order for another 747-8 in May. However, UPS simply took over an order which was actually made by another customer.

The Boeing 747-8F with the serial number 63784 was originally ordered by the Volga-Dnepr Group. The aircraft manufacturer accused the Russian freight giant of having failed to meet contact commitments, prompting Boeing to look for a new buyer. While UPS took over the 747-8F from Volga-Dnepr and thereby got the airplane quickly, the airline also cancelled its own unfilled order. The official order backlog therefore fell from 18 to 16 in May.

The novel coronavirus pandemic hit the last nail in the coffin for jumbo jets. As a result of the crisis, which particularly affected the aviation industry, more and more iconic aircraft are being sent into early retirement and mostly scrapped.

To give an example, Lufthansa has started to decommission and scrap a large part of its Boeing 747-400 fleet at an early stage. The airline is slated to operate 19 747-8s through 2025. Though, 13 Boeing 747-400s, of which Lufthansa received its first in 1996, will be retired earlier than planned. The other remaining jumbo operators like British Airways are also planning to gradually phase out their 747-400 aircraft.

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