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2017 In Review: Goodbye, Queen of the Skies

To close the year, FlyerTalk is looking back at four major changes that made headlines in 2017, and how aviation has reacted as a result. In this story, we look back at the domestic retirement of the Boeing 747

She was introduced to flyers on January 22, 1970. Clipper Victor – the stand-in for the original aircraft planned for the first commercial flight – was officially christened by First Lady Pat Nixon at Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and changed the way we flew forever.

The Boeing 747 created the demand for the “Jumbo Jet,” and was seen as the pinnacle of luxury in the skies. Since the first departure of this iconic aircraft, over 1,500 have been produced and have flown around the world. With its iconic “hump” at the front and four engines, the “Queen of the Skies” has become the aircraft of choice for five United States presidents, numerous celebrities and frequent flyers around the world.

In 2017, two American airlines paid their respects to the world’s first jumbo jets with celebratory final flights, putting an end to the jumbo jet era for domestic carriers. On November 7, 2017, United Airlines put “The Friend Ship” to rest with a final celebration, flying from San Francisco International Airport (IAD) to Honolulu International Airport (HNL). FlyerTalkers who were lucky enough to go reported back a flight to remember.

“I had such a great time on that flight! Easily the most fun I have ever had on a plane and in an airport,” ual763 wrote on the forums. “I’d even go so far as to say that I was more giddy on this flight than on my first solo flight!”

Just over a month later, Delta Air Lines sent their final 747 on one last trip: an international run from Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) to Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN), followed by a return flight and a farewell tour for airline employees. The airframe will be sent to its final resting place in early January 2018.

With these flights closes the end of the “jumbo jet” era for American carriers. While other international airlines continue to operate the 747 on select international routes, America’s legacy operators are opting for lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft. Instead of the 747 and rival Airbus A380, the domestic airlines are investing heavily in the two-engine, composite built Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 XWB. With the demand for jumbo jets on the decline, will the 747 and A380 become extinct?

In 2017, Boeing had a net loss of two orders for the 747 – despite unidentified customers ordering four, and the United States Air Force ordering two as the new presidential aircraft. During the same time period, Airbus A380 orders were scarce: of the 317 total, only 96 aircraft have left to be delivered to a handful of customers, including Qantas, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Even Emirates, which currently has the largest outstanding order for the double-deck French-built aircraft, deferred some of their deliveries to 2018 and 2019.

The changes in demand have made both manufacturers reconsider their positions on the future of the aircraft. Boeing first reduced production of the aircraft in 2016, followed by acknowledging the program may have reached the end. Meanwhile, Airbus is trying new configurations to make the A380 more appealing to airlines, including adding more seats to accommodate over 500 passengers.

While she enjoyed a long reign, the “Queen of the Skies” will no longer fly with an American flag again – and the A380 may never have that opportunity. If this experience has taught us one thing, it is to appreciate the brevity of life, because, with the retirement of the 747 from legacy carrier use, the era of the jumbo jet may truly be coming to an end.

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brobin January 4, 2018

If I'm not mistaken the code for San Francisco is SFO and the IAD code is for Washington Dulles as pointed out in the first paragraph.