Earlier today, Singapore Airlines announced their financial results for Fiscal Year 2010 (FY2010). Along with a smashing profit of around $880 million and the announcement of plans to grow capacity by 6% in 2011, the airline confirmed that it would retire its 7 remaining Boeing 747-400s by March of 2012 (as well as 5 more 777s). The airline also plans to take delivery of 8 more Airbus A380 “whalejets” this (fiscal) year.
The retirement of the last 747 marks the end of an era at Singapore Airlines. The origins of the 747-400 at Singapore Airlines date back to the early 1970s, just following the split of British relic Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA). Flush with cash and international operating rights received in the split, Singapore Airlines placed its first orders for a pair of Boeing 747-200s on July 26th, 1972. The aircraft were delivered in 1973, and entered service on the Singapore-Hong Kong- Tokyo, and London-Singapore-Sydney sectors.
As the airline continued to grow throughout the 70s, more and more 747-200s were added to the fleet; the airline eventually ended up operating 24 in all (19 passenger, 5 freighter), with the last passenger delivery occurring in March of 1981. In 1983, they became an operator of the next generation of 747s, the Boeing 747-300. Their fleet of 14 747-300s represented 1/5 of global operations of the aircraft, which the airline dubbed “Big Top.” Later that year, they became the first airline to operate the aircraft across the Pacific, placing it on their flagship Singapore-Tokyo-Los Angeles service. In 1986, before taking delivery of all of their 747-300s , they placed an order for 14 747-400s, which upon delivery in 1989 were christened “Megatops.” With the airline growing into a true juggernaut in the 90s, their fleet of 747-400s grew apace. In all, the airline took delivery of 42 747-400s; 1 out of every 10 747-400s saw service in their fleet (passenger version only).
But the days of 747 hegemony in Singapore Airline’s fleet were numbered. Due to the airline’s propensity for a young fleet age, they quickly In 2000, the airline announced its very first order for Airbus A380 aircraft; 10 firm and 15 options. Boeing offered nothing in response beyond the same old 747-400, dooming the 747’s future at Singapore Airlines.The airline opted to replace the 747 with a combination of those 25 A380s, and in a parallel to global trends, a few smaller 777-300ER twin-jets. After 2007, when the airline took delivery of their first (oft-delayed) A380, they began to retire their 747-400s. The slow decline continued throughout the 2000s, culminating earlier this year when they announced that the A380 would replace the 747-400 on the Singapore-Tokyo-Los Angeles route, which had been operated by the 747 for close to 30 years straight. Boeing has finally introduced a 747 family competitor to the A380 in the 747-8i, but its too late for the aircraft in Singapore Airlines fleet. Over the past 38 years, Singapore Airlines has been a core customer of the 747s, and it will always be associated with the airline. Perhaps 15 years from now, we’ll be eulogizing the A380 at Emirates as they retire it in favor of a 747-900.