(CNN) – More than half a century since the original jumbo jet ushered in a magical new era for the plane, helping bring affordable air travel to millions of passengers, the last Boeing 747 was delivered on Tuesday, marking the beginning of the final chapter for the much-loved plane.
In a ceremony broadcast live, the aircraft was handed over to its new owner, US freight forwarder Atlas Air, at Boeing’s factory in Everett, Washington.
In a dramatic opening of the sliding hangar doors, the new Atlas Air aircraft was revealed behind flags bearing the flags of each carrier that has taken delivery of the 747. The airline has 56 aircraft in its fleet.
One important little detail in the last detail delivered: a poster next to the nose of the plane in honor of Joe Sutter, chief engineer of the Boeing 747 program, who died in 2016 and is considered by many to be the “father” of this iconic plane. Members of the Sutter family, as well as members of the Boeing family representing company founder Bill Boeing, attended the handover ceremony on Tuesday.
John Dietrich, President and CEO of Atlas Air Worldwide, thanked the Boeing Employees Association.
“The impact of your work continues beyond product lines,” Dietrich said. “It fueled childhood dreams and career aspirations while simultaneously driving global economies and supply chains.”
Dietrich also shared a flight plan showing that the 747 will fly the new plane on Wednesday.
A series of speakers representing companies that have relied on the 747 came out to celebrate the aircraft.
“The 747 is a symbol of many, many things, and above all, I think it is a symbol of the world, which the 747 made significantly smaller,” said Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr.
Actor and pilot John Travolta, who narrated a series of videos chronicling the plane’s colorful history, appeared to thank Boeing employees for “the most thoughtful and safest plane ever.”
Although the latest 747 won’t carry paying passengers, its delivery is another milestone for the iconic double-decker “Sky Queen,” which revolutionized intercontinental travel while also appearing in James Bond films and even providing rides aboard the space shuttle. .
With the last passenger 747 entering service more than five years ago, the end of the 747’s sustained career is now drawing nearer, as airlines have scrambled to shift their preferences to smaller, more economical planes.
Tuesday’s delivery is a moment long awaited by the global aviation community. Expecting aircraft enthusiasts have followed every step of building the last 747, since Boeing announced in July 2020 that it was halting production of its one-off flagship.
It was the introduction of the European double-decker in the early 2000s that prompted Boeing to announce, in 2005, one last version of the 747 design which by then was already beginning to show its age.
The B747-8I (or B747-8 Intercontinental), as this latest variant of the venerable jumbo jet is called, has proven to be the swan song for large four-engine jets.
As of December 2022, only 44 passenger versions of the 747 remain in service, according to flight analytics firm Cirium. That total is down from more than 130 in service as passenger aircraft at the end of 2019, before the pandemic crippled demand for air travel, especially on international routes on which the 747 and other wide-body aircraft were primarily used. Most passenger versions of the planes 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 keeping jumbo jet passengers for years, possibly decades, to come.
The largest building in the world
The 747 has proven to be more popular with freighter operators. There are still 314,747 freighters in use, according to Cirium, many of which were initially used as passenger planes before being refurbished and converted into freighters.
Features such as the distinctive nose-loading capacity, and the elevated cockpit position, which leaves the full length of the lower fuselage available for carrying oversized items, made it a cargo favourite.
Tuesday’s delivery also raises questions about what will happen to Boeing’s massive plant in Everett, where the 747 has been produced since 1967.
This facility was built specifically for the Boeing 747 and is, according to the company, the largest building in the world by volume. Since then, it has been used as the primary production site for Boeing’s wide-body aircraft, the 767, 777, and 787 (the best-selling narrow-body 737, however, is produced in Renton, another Seattle-area location).
Developments in the past few years have shifted the company’s industrial center of gravity elsewhere.
In addition to the loss of the B747, Everett recently lost its 787 production line, after Boeing decided to consolidate production at its Charleston, South Carolina, plant.
Air Force One of the United States
Moreover, according to these same sources, Boeing may also produce additional B737s in Everett. This best-selling model is currently being produced at another facility in Renton, just south of the Greater Seattle area.
Despite the hype on January 31, two more Boeing 747s are still in the pipeline — and they’re by no means ordinary.
These are the two new presidential planes of the United States, technically called the VC-25, even if they are commonly referred to as “Air Force One” (a call sign used only when the President of the United States is on board).
These two planes have already been built, having originally been destined for the Russian airline Transaero, which went bankrupt in 2015. The two future Air Force planes are currently undergoing an extensive program of modifications to prepare them for presidential service.
CNN’s Chris Isidore contributed to this story.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”