Boeing Has Likely Built Its Last Commercial 747
Since 1970, the Boeing 747 has reigned as "Queen of the Skies," turning heads and inspiring generations of pilots and travelers. But its days are numbered, as its order backlog for the passenger-carrying version is now zero.
The final passenger airframe of the current generation 747-8i is currently undergoing test flights for the Korean Air. The Seoul-based carrier is one of only three passenger airlines to take delivery of the most recent version of the 747 — Lufthansa and Air China are the other members of this small group.
Although three 747-8i build slots remain on the order books, those are for bankrupt Russian airline Transaero, which ceased operations in 2015. Boeing spokesperson Tom Kim told me, "As we’ve repeatedly said before, going forward, sales of the 747-8 will be closely tied to the cargo market. Our work continues to secure additional 747-8 Freighter orders." Indeed, the 747-8 Freighter has been a better seller than the passenger version but its order backlog isn't very long, either. Last fall, UPS ordered 14 747-8Fs with options for 14 more.
To date, 1,540 747s have been built. The majority of those were for commercial airlines, starting with Pan American Airways (PanAm). But 747s have also served many other roles, including cargo plane, Space Shuttle Carrier, aerial firefighting, and of course transporting the US President. It's possible that the last 747s to roll off the assembly line will be modified for the "Air Force One" role.
Airbus beat Boeing to market with a larger jumbo jet, the A380, which holds more passengers than the 747-400. It wasn't long before Boeing stretched the -400, though, giving it new wings and engines and calling it the 747-8i. However, Boeing's newer, more efficient aircraft such as the upcoming 777X and even the smaller 787 have hastened the death of the 747 product line. The 777 line is comprised of twin-engined jets versus the quad-engined 747 line. Having only two engines results in better fuel economy and lower maintenance costs, thus boosting airline profits. The 777X has received 326 orders through June of this year — 150 of which are from Emirates. Other orders have come from ANA, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Lufthansa, and Qatar Airways.
If you want to fly on a US-based 747, time is running short. Delta and United will both be retiring their final 747s before the end of the year. However, carriers with 747-8is in their fleets will likely keep them flying for at least 15 more years.