An Ode to the 747

Boeing 747

There is no love like your first love. Nothing ever compares. There was no place you couldn’t go together. Sometimes, on an upgrade, you’d climb its stairway into the bulge, back-dropped by little port windows a sky-mile above the clouds.

We loved that aircraft. Most of us took our first trip to Europe together. Backpacks two-stories down in cargo. The sound tracks vary, but we’ve all got similar memories of flying Boeing 747s.

It was a warm feeling, a feeling that we were part of something bigger than ourselves.

There was a time when the 747 was all things to long-distance travelers. No other aircraft could fly 6,000 to 8,000 miles with a single takeoff and landing. And no other plane could carry so many of us.

Now that beautiful aircraft that lumbers into the sky like a blue heron on takeoff is going the way of the dodo bird. The jig is up. The fine reporter David Yanofsky over at has dissected the biology. If you like baseball-like statistics, his long-form journalism is well worth the read.

Here’s a little summary of his reportage.

The Boeing 747 hit the tarmac in 1969, the summer of love. Once you saw it, you never forgot it. It’s got to be, as Yanofsky suggested, the most recognized aircraft in the world.

But as you know, the 747 is being replaced by better twin-engine jets – the various versions of the 777 and A330s – that sip fuel like a Kia Soul and are likely to be “liked.”

Looking ahead to summer 2015 and then back through to 2009, the 747s available seat miles drop 14 percent.

In the same time period, the “Airbus 330s share of seat miles is set to grow 8.8 percentage points and the Boeing 777s will grow 8.7 points.”

And even more remarkably, the capacity of the 747s around the world has declined 12 percent a year since 2009. Boeing still builds the 747, but they’ve dropped production to a plane-and-a-half a month.

The airlines that fly them want to get rid of them. They are being cashiered. They’re about as popular as a used Humvee on the Old World city streets of Europe.

Qantas, Yanofsky notes, had a fleet of 35 in 2004; soon it will be down to nine. Delta is looking to dump all 16 of theirs.

The 747 is the least efficient wide-body plane flying. It burns more fuel per hour and per seat mile than any other wide-body jet.

The Tarmac’s View: In summary, maybe 747s are like Cadillacs. It’s not just that folks are buying fewer of them, it seems the people who drive them are, to some of us at least, less interesting than those behind the wheel of a hybrid.But you never forget your first love.


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