Boeing says farewell to 'Queen of the Skies' with last 747 delivery (2024)

More than half a century since the original jumbo jet ushered in a glamorous new jet age, helping bringing affordable air travel to millions of passengers, the last-ever Boeing 747 was scheduled to be delivered on Tuesday, marking the start of the final chapter for the much-loved airplane.

In a ceremony that will be broadcast live online at 4 p.m. Eastern Time, the aircraft will be handed over at a ceremony at Boeing's plant in Everett, Washington, to its new owner, US air cargo operator Atlas Air.

While the final 747 won't be carrying paying passengers, its delivery is another milestone for the distinctive double-decker "Queen of the Skies," which revolutionized intercontinental travel while also appearing in James Bond films and even giving piggyback rides to the Space Shuttle.

With the last passenger 747 having entered service more than five years ago, the end of the 747's enduring career now moves even closer, hastened by airlines switching their preferences to smaller and more economical aircraft.

Tuesday's delivery is a moment long anticipated by the global aviation community. Expectant airplane enthusiasts have followed every step of the final 747's construction, ever since Boeing announced in July 2020 that it was ceasing production of its one-time flagship.

The aircraft, registered as N863GT, made its first public appearance in December, when it was rolled out of the Boeing assembly line covered in anti-corrosive green paint. In early January, photos appeared online of the aircraft, already wearing the Atlas Air livery.

One small significant detail didn't go unnoticed: a decal right next to the nose paying homage to Joe Sutter, chief engineer of the Boeing 747 program, who died in 2016 and is considered by many as the "father" of this famous aircraft.

Swan song

Interestingly for a jet that predates the Apollo Moon landings (it hit the skies a few months earlier, in February 1969), the Boeing 747's production line has outlasted that of one of its most direct recent competitors, the Airbus A380, which was produced between 2003 and 2021.

It was the introduction of the European double-decker plane in the early 2000s which prompted Boeing to announce, in 2005, one last version of the 747 design that by that time was already starting to show its age.

The B747-8I (or B747-8 Intercontinental), as this last variant of the venerable jumbo jet is called, proved to be a swan song for large four-engined airliners.

Even though the A380 is currently enjoying a revival, with airlines rushing to bring stored airframes back to service in response to the post-Covid air traffic recovery, these giants of the skies struggle to compete with the operational flexibility and fuel economies of smaller twin-engined jets.

As of December 2022, there are only 44 passenger versions of the 747 still in service, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. That total is down from more than 130 in service as passenger jets at the end of 2019, just before the pandemic crippled demand for air travel, especially on international routes on which the 747 and other widebody jets were primarily used. Most of those passenger versions of the jets were grounded during the early months of the pandemic and never returned to service.

Lufthansa remains the largest operator of the passenger version of the B747-8, with 19 in its current fleet and potential commitments to keep the jumbo flying passengers for years, possibly decades to come.

World's largest building

The 747 has proven more popular among cargo operators. There are still 314 747 freighters in use, according to Cirium, many of which were initially used as passenger jets before being renovated into freighters.

Features such as the distinctive nose-loading capability, and the co*ckpit's elevated position, leaving the whole length of the lower fuselage available to carry large-volume items, have made it a cargo favorite.

Tuesday's delivery also brings questions about what will happen to Boeing's vast Everett factory, in which the 747 has been produced since 1967.

This facility was purpose-built for the Boeing 747 and is, according to the company, the largest building in the world by volume. It's since served as the main production location for Boeing's wide-body airliners, the 767, 777 and 787 (the best-selling narrow-body 737, however, is produced at Renton, another location in the Seattle area).

Developments in the last few years have been shifting the company's industrial center of gravity elsewhere.

In addition to losing the B747, Everett recently lost the 787 production line, after Boeing decided to consolidate production at its plant in Charleston, South Carolina.

Boeing continues to make the B767 at Everett, a relatively old model with limited commercial perspectives, as well as the B777, which is currently seeing low production rates, in anticipation of its new version, the B777X. The latter, however, has suffered several delays and it is currently going through a certification and development process that is proving to be much lengthier and complex than expected.

US presidential planes

While Boeing hasn't disclosed much publicly about what it intends to do with the facilities that housed the Boeing 747 final assembly line, in the run up to the final jumbo delivery reports have emerged that they may be used to work on stored B787 Dreamliners.

What's more, according to these same sources, Boeing may also produce additional B737s in Everett. Production of this bestselling model currently takes place at another facility in Renton, further south in the Greater Seattle area.

Despite the fanfare of January 31, there's still two more Boeing 747 deliveries pending -- and they're by no means an ordinary.

These are the two new US presidential planes, which are technically called VC-25, even if they're popularly referred to as "Air Force One" (a call sign that is only used when the US President is on board).

These two planes have already been built, having originally been destined for Russian airline Transaero, which went bankrupt in 2015. The two future Air Force Ones are currently undergoing an extensive program of modifications to prepare them for presidential service.

This photo from December 2022 shows the last ever Boeing 747 after its factory rollout (Courtesy Boeing).

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CNN's Chris Isidore contributed to this story.

Boeing says farewell to 'Queen of the Skies' with last 747 delivery (2024)

FAQs

Why is the 747 called the Queen of the Skys? ›

Flying the 747—as well as flying on the 747—was an experience that no other aircraft offered, with a staircase to the upper deck. It was so culturally and economically significant, and had such a unique figure, that it had its own nickname: Queen of the Skies.

Why is everyone retiring the 747? ›

The Boeing 747, with its four engines, is being phased out in favour of twin-engine jets that are not only cheaper to operate but also significantly reduce fuel consumption—a crucial factor amid rising fuel costs and increased environmental regulations.

What was the tail number of the last 747 delivery? ›

The aircraft — tail number N863GT — will go down in history as the 1,574th and last 747 to ever be built.

Was the Boeing 747 the last plane delivered in Regal send off? ›

Elsewhere in the crowd were also some of those who helped develop the jet in the 1960s - the so-called "incredibles". The last 747 rolled off the assembly line 7 December, completing inspections, flight tests and getting a paint job before finally being handed over to Atlas, which operates the aircraft as freighters.

Does anyone fly 747s anymore? ›

Airline operators

As of March 2024, there were 415 Boeing 747 aircraft in active airline service, comprising 1 747-100, 3 747SPs, 20 747-200s, 3 747-300s, 236 747-400s, and 152 747-8s. These aircraft are listed by airline operators and variant in the following table.

What will replace the 747? ›

The heir apparent to the 747, the 777X will not be ready for delivery until 2025, but Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun focused his goodbye on that future: “The 777, the next plane to dominate this space, displaced all its competition just like that - and we haven't even introduced the best version.”

What is the oldest 747 in service today? ›

The oldest active 747 aircraft today

The aircraft was built on 13th June 1973 and is 49.81 years old at the time of writing. The oldest passenger aircraft in commercial operation is a Boeing 747-400 EP-MEE (SN 24383) operated by Mahan Air, a privately owned Iranian airline.

Why did airlines get rid of the 747? ›

But over the last few decades, airlines have pushed aircraft manufacturers for more fuel-efficient planes to reduce costs. Two-engine jets can now fly near the same capacity and fly farther than older, four-engine planes like Boeing's 747 and the Airbus A380.

Will the Boeing 747 ever come back? ›

The Queen of the Skies makes a comeback

The 747 continues in production with the 747-8. Boeing, however, announced in July that production will end when the final orders are complete. These are now all for freighter versions, with all passenger orders delivered.

Who ordered the last 747? ›

At the ceremony Atlas Air president, John Dietrich, reflected on the honor of taking the final delivery of Boeing's “Queen of the Skies” (Atlas ordered the last four 747-8s), reflecting on the fact that Atlas has used its 747s to carry everything from “race cars to race horses”.

What was the last 747 code? ›

The delivery of N863GT marks the final 747 to fly away from Everett after 1,574 747s came off the production line. From the first 747-100 to the shortened 747SP to the most successful variant, the 747-400, to the final 747-8, Boeing's most iconic work has exited the building at Paine Field.

Why is the A380 being retired? ›

However, the $445 million price tag of each aircraft was not sufficient to even cover the production cost, so with Airbus losing money on each A380, and with orders evaporating, it made economic sense to cease production.

Is the A380 discontinued? ›

Airbus ended production of its A380 double decker plane in 2021.

Does UPS still fly 747? ›

Our fleet currently includes the following aircraft types: 757-200F, 767-300F, A300-600F, MD-11F, 747-400F, and 747-8F. UPS serves more than 220 countries using a combination of more than 500 UPS and chartered aircraft.

What is the meaning of the Queen of sky? ›

Queen of Heaven was a title given to a number of ancient sky goddesses worshipped throughout the ancient Mediterranean and the ancient Near East. Goddesses known to have been referred to by the title include Inanna, Anat, Isis, Nut, Astarte, and possibly Asherah (by the prophet Jeremiah).

What was the 747 nickname? ›

The plane's design included a second deck extending from the co*ckpit back over the first third of the plane, giving it a distinctive hump and inspiring a nickname, the Whale. More romantically, the 747 became known as the Queen of the Skies.

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