“Boeing’s 747 is an icon, but future is in doubt”

An interesting article on the history and current state of the 747 market:

For decades, the Boeing 747 was the Queen of the Skies. But the glamorous double-decker jumbo jet that revolutionized air travel and shrunk the globe could be nearing the end of the line.
Boeing has cut its production target twice in six months. Just 18 will be produced in each of the next two years. Some brand-new 747s go into storage as soon as they leave the plant. Counting cancellations, it hadn’t sold a single 747 this year until Korean Air bought five on Thursday.
Boeing says it’s committed to the 747, and sees a market for it in regions like Asia. But most airlines simply don’t want big, four-engine planes anymore. They prefer newer two-engine jets that fly the same distance while burning less fuel.

(Via Rand Simburg, who tweets: “I remember when Boeing announced development of 747. It was a wonder of the world. Thanks, Juan Trippe.”)

9 thoughts on ““Boeing’s 747 is an icon, but future is in doubt””

  1. There’s an interesting book, 747, by Joe Sutter, who was the chief engineer on the 747 development project and became a senior executive at Boeing.

    Right out of school, he was assigned to do aerodynamic work on the Boeing Stratocruiser, a piston-engine passenger liner that had largely completed development but was having serious difficulties. Sutter was given considerably more responsibility than would have been typical for his age and experience, in part because most engineers wanted to work on jets. Many years later, he got the lead engineering job on the 747 based both on his job performance and on the fact that most of his potential competitors for the job were more interested in the then-fashionable Supersonic Transport project.

    There’s a message there. The most glamorous job opportunities, as viewed in the light of current fashions, are not always those with the best long-term payoff.

  2. I wondered if Airbus was having the same problems with their even bigger A380. I googled it and sure enough:

    Airbus A380 faces strategy crunch after drop in orders

    (Reuters) – Airbus is poised to review its A380 superjumbo after a slump in orders and has not ruled out shaving output of the world’s largest jetliner while waiting for the economy to come to its rescue.

    * * *

    Airbus has not booked a firm A380 order this year but has taken three cancellations. It has sold a total of 259.

    * * *

    The immediate worry is that gaps in the production line for 2015 will force airbus to build jets it hasn’t been able to sell – known as “white tails” – tying up cash in planes worth $400 million each at list prices, most of which is paid on delivery. Time to avert the problem is running out because parts like metal forgings have to be ordered up to two years ahead.

    * * *

    Options include trimming production below the targeted 30 a year, taking a less pro-active stance on the jet and mainly producing what has been sold, and reviving plans to upgrade it beyond the end of the decade.

    * * *

    Slow sales are not the only headache, however. Analysts say the quality of the undelivered backlog has also deteriorated. Airbus’s 148 remaining undelivered orders for A380 include up to around 30 aircraft that analysts say may not get delivered, notably five for grounded Indian airline Kingfisher. Others include 10 for Hong Kong Airlines, which faces Chinese divisions over the jet, and six for Virgin Atlantic, which has negotiated cancellation rights. The backlog is also increasingly dominated by one customer, Emirates, which makes up a third – and well above 40 percent if you exclude those orders considered least likely to be fulfilled by other airlines, according to a Reuters analysis.

  3. Boeing is tapering down its 747 production and recently introduced the efficient, mid-sized 787, which I assume will be a big success once they fix the bugs. Meanwhile Airbus is tying up huge resources in the A380 program, which now looks marginal.

  4. Look at a 777 – almost the same capacity and 2 engines. Plus airlines seem to favor less big hubs and more decentralized hubs.

  5. The first 747s were delivered when airlines were still regulated on ticket prices, so they were competing on amenities.

    I rode one that had a piano bar, and contests to help pass the time. (I walked off with a bottle of champagne for knowing that Hannibal Hamlin was Lincoln’s first vice president — and am still disappointed in myself for not knowing the most cities with names starting with “M” and populations more than one million.)

    I mention that because it occurs to me that the 747 might have been designed for regulated markets.

    You could test that by looking at whether they were used more in places that stayed regulated after the US reformed.

  6. It was Joan Trippe, who built Pan Am, who got Boeing to make the 747 and I think it was him that got the 2nd deck.

    Never will forget – fall of 1968 I was going to school in menlo Park CA, just down 101 from SFO.

    The first 747 was in and at night the caretaker let me walk onto the tarmac and gave me a tour inside. It was parked next to a 727 that was dwarfed by this behemoth. Both Pan Am planes.

    They are still impressive.

  7. Numbers, Bill, numbers:

    From PBS ‘chasing the sun’:
    Unfortunately for Trippe, the aircraft manufacturers didn’t want to make the new planes. Pitting one manufacturer against the other, Trippe lured both Boeing and Douglas into the jet building business. Both companies benefited from Pan Am’s orders, but it was Juan Trippe who ultimately was the big winner. He got the large new jet he wanted – the Boeing 707. Pan Am soon had an unheard of 90% occupancy on its fleet of jets.

    The 747 was a bet by Boeing, I think.
    “Boeing agreed to deliver the first 747 to Pan Am by the end of 1969. The delivery date left 28 months to design the aircraft, which was two-thirds of the normal time.[33] The schedule was so fast paced that the people who worked on it were given the nickname “The Incredibles”.[34] Developing the aircraft was such a technical and financial challenge that management was said to have “bet the company” when it started the project.[1]”

    Though you should always take the word there with a grain of salt.

  8. With about 1500 built Boeing made back its investment in the 747 decades ago. Airbus will be lucky to get 1/3 that many orders for a plane that cost many times that to develop. The smart money is on fuel efficient medium sized planes, not monster 4 engine behemoths.

Comments are closed.