A topic that can get any planespotter or aviation enthusiast to tear up on the spot is the retirement of the Boeing 747. Seriously, movie studios should consider getting planespotters to act in roles where crying is needed. It’ll be much more genuine that some of the crappy fake crying that we see in movies. What was once comparable to a queen on her throne is now more or less a prisoner of war. The Boeing 747 has reached the end of its lifespan as airlines are switching over to more efficient twinjets or perhaps the Airbus A380. The 747-8 remains an overall failure, while earlier versions such as the 747-400 are being phased out due to their age.


JAL Boeing 747-400 – Photo by Christian Junker CC 2.0

So what does this mean for the 747 family? Well first of all, we probably won’t be seeing many passenger 747’s in the future. The future of the 747 lies in the success of the 747-8, and so far only 40 passenger variants of the 747-8 have been delivered (versus 530 deliveries for the passenger 747-400). The low popularity of the passenger 747-8 (also known as the 747-8i) is mainly due to the fact that it can’t compete with the Airbus A380 or Boeing 777 in terms of efficiency. The cargo version (747-8F) in holding up better than its pax counterpart, but still it has only seen 63 deliveries.

In fact, demand for the 747-8 is so low that recently Boeing announced that it would cut production rate of the 747-8 to 6 aircraft a year. For comparison, the current Boeing 777 production rate is 8.33 aircraft per month, or 100 aircraft per year. Considering the current failure that is the 747-8, I wouldn’t be surprised if the production line were to be virtually shut down after all orders are fulfilled. 


Lufthansa 747-8i – Photo by Kiefer CC 2.0

In the midst of the disappointment and sadness, a recent article I read that a friend forwarded to me has given me some renewed hope for the Boeing 747. Boeing is currently talking to Russian cargo carrier AirBridgeCargo and its parent company Volga-Dnepr Group about converting a commitment into a firm order for 10 747-8 freighters. According to the author of the article, Julie Johnsson, the order would allow for Boeing to continue production of the 747-8 at least until we see an influx of new freighter orders when other freight airlines begin looking into the 747-8F as a replacement for their aging MD-11F’s, 747-400F’s, and perhaps A300F’s and A330F’s. The order from AirBridgeCargo will help bridge the gap between now and then, and prevent Boeing from having to shut down the 747-8 production line until the new orders arrive.

As is typical with the aviation industry, the future of the Boeign 747 is completely uncertain. Given the shift in attention of passenger airlines to twinjets, the success of the 747-8 will lie in the hands of the cargo industry, where it still has an edge over the competition.