KLM and Qantas have retired all their 747s because of the coronavirus

Mar 29, 2020

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It was bound to happen anyway, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it happen a lot sooner, and unexpectedly. Two major operators of the Boeing 747 have grounded the Queen of the Skies for good on Sunday. KLM and Qantas both flew their last scheduled passenger flights with the 747 on the same day, retiring the legendary airplanes before the planned date. The Dutch flag carrier expected to phase out the 747 in 2021, while the Australian one was going to retire its Jumbo Jets by the end of the year.

But that was before the coronavirus swept the world.

Now, with passengers kept home by quarantine orders and airline fleets decimated around the world, no one needs anymore a giant jet with four engines that can fly 400 people. So carriers are getting rid of the 747 even faster. It was on its way out in any case, killed off by big and more efficient twinjets like the Boeing 777 and A350, but the pandemic has really hastened the end of the airplane that made modern air travel as we know it.

The early retirement of the Dutch and Australian Jumbo Jets could be followed live on flight-tracking sites, and had been announced by enthusiasts on social media.

Flightradar24 showed that the 747 with the Dutch registration PH-BFT landed in Amsterdam at 3.32 p.m. local time on Sunday coming from Mexico City, the last scheduled service. KLM had, as of Sunday, seven 747s in its fleet, plus three cargo-only models, according to fleet-tracking site Planespotters. The seven passenger jets are all grounded now, either in Amsterdam or at other long-term storage locations, while the three cargo models are still flying — and are likely to continue to do so.

KLM’s 747s were, like many Jumbo Jets these days, not fitted with the latest standard in premium-class seats. But for iconic power, they had few rivals. The sight of a strikingly blue 747 landing just over the beach on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten was for many years a bucket-list item for aviation enthusiasts.

Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy

Before the last landing of a KLM 747 with paying passengers, Qantas had flown its last 747 service Sunday, flight QF28 from Santiago de Chile, one of the rare transoceanic connections in the Southern Hemisphere. Flightradar24 showed it landed at 5.30 p.m. Sydney time. Its last overflight of the Sydney skyline ended up on Twitter.

According to a Qantas pilot, “the planes are being parked in storage.” There is currently no plan for any future use of the 747s, said the pilot, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. Flightradar24 shows that they are all grounded in Sydney at the moment.

The sudden disappearance of many 747s mirrors that of the other giant double-decker passenger plane, the Airbus A380. Even larger than the 747, the A380 is way, way too big for the new world of reduced demand for air travel we are seeing now. While many A380s are grounded, some of them are likely to return to service once demand comes back, but the writing is on the wall: The future belongs to twinjets. Both KLM and Qantas already have in their fleets the Boeing 787, which will take the place of their 747s on their long-haul routes. It’s smaller and far less of a design icon, but it sips fuel and is cheaper to operate. With cash dwindling, that’s all airlines will care about for some time.

This story has been updated with more information on the fate of Qantas’ 747s.   

Featured photo by the author.


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