Boeing 747: Is its Number Up?

The figures aren’t adding up for Boeing’s “Queen of the Skies”. Go to any airport in the world and count the engines on planes. With the exception of the A340,
28 Aug 2014 02:23
Boeing 747: Is its Number Up?
High Level Consultations held between the Fijian and New Zealand officials in March this year.

The figures aren’t adding up for Boeing’s “Queen of the Skies”. Go to any airport in the world and count the engines on planes. With the exception of the A340, and the even larger but importantly new and efficient Airbus A380, the trend is just two engines for widebody aircraft.

Boeing’s long-haul workhorse the 777, the Dreamliner, the Airbus A330 and soon-to-be-launched A350 have two engines, cutting maintenance, and with advances in engine technology and lightweight airframe construction are far more fuel-efficient.

In its heyday, the Boeing 747 was hailed for its fuel efficiency but comparatively now is a gas guzzler, consuming fuel at the rate of 10 tonnes an hour.

And while Boeing is trying, with some success, to keep a good thing going with an advanced and even bigger 747 for cargo, the economics aren’t working for the older aircraft.

They’re being sold on to second or third-tier carriers, converted into freighters, sold for parts or parked up in desert “boneyards” in the southwestern United States.

In these dry environments they don’t corrode and are further stripped for parts or sit idle.

There have been more than 1500 jumbos built and they’ve been an enormous commercial success but the 747 was one of Boeing’s biggest gambles.

Spurred by losing a contract for the US military’s next giant transport aircraft, Boeing turned to its civil division to revive its fortunes.

Encouraged by a growing appetite for long-haul travel and sealed with a commitment by Pan Am to buy 25 planes, Boeing executives bet their future on what was to become the most recognised plane in the world.

They committed more than the value of the company to developing the 747 and a factory big enough to build it in. Work on clearing wooded hill country at Everett, north of Seattle, began in 1966 and just two years later the first prototype was wheeled out of what was the biggest building in the world. Engineers working on the jumbo wore hard hats for protection as the factory was built around them.

Boeing said the tens of thousands of construction workers, mechanics, engineers, secretaries and administrators who made aviation history were known as The Incredibles.

Pan Am made the first commercial flight between New York and London in January 1970 and began a revolution in air travel.

The plane could fly more people further and at a lower seat cost which translated to lower fares and a boom in long-haul travel.

In the early days, when fuel was cheap and international flying still had plenty of glamour, airlines piled on the extras.

The spiral staircase leading to the upper deck took them to lounges with grand pianos, bars and dining rooms.

P. J. Scherer, the Herald’s man aboard Air New Zealand’s 1981 jumbo delivery flight, noted one Southeast Asian carrier considered fitting out a massage parlour upstairs but ditched the idea “when some such establishments began to acquire an insalubrious reputation”.

On the distinctive hump, at the time there was attention on high flight-crew pay with “wiseacres insisting the bulge was designed so that pilots could sit on their wallets”.


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