tIt’s death The Queen has time to think. So that was when the last jumbo 747 — the “Queen of the Sky” to legions of fans — rolled off Boeing’s production line in Washington state on December 6. Her death was slow and of little dignity. The last plane sold to carry passengers was in 2017 to Korean Air Lines. Then they were only used for charging, and many operators didn’t want that. Only 30,747 have been ordered over the past five years. However, for those who equate bump-headed birds with the pinnacle of flight, it feels like the end of an era.
Pan Am first flew a commercial 747 route in 1970, between New York’s JFK Airport and London Heathrow. The strict regulation of the industry at the time restricted the routes that airlines could fly. Ticket prices were also controlled. Those first superjumbos carried 366 passengers, compared to about 200 on the Boeing 707s that flew the transatlantic route in the 1960s. This gave carriers a better chance of turning a profit in the face of these restrictions. But its size will also be a burden. When the oil shock hit in the mid-1970s, the gas-guzzling four-engine monsters were a factor in crippling losses for airlines—not least because the recession meant it was difficult to fill seats.
In 1978, America liberalized its aviation market, which is the largest in the world. This has prompted airlines to develop a “hub and talk” business model. With fewer restrictions on the routes they can operate, airlines can fly huge planes to their home airports, before transferring passengers onto smaller planes that take them to their final destination; This changed both domestic and international air travel. This allowed operators to serve more airports with fewer aircraft. The more customers that can be squeezed into hub-bound flights, the better. That was a boon for what was then the largest passenger airliner in the world. To secure its place in this system, in 1988 Boeing launched the 747-400, which could fly up to 8,354 miles (13,450 km) non-stop, about 650 miles more than its predecessor, the 747-300. It usually carried 416 passengers.
During the 2000s competition, Boeing pressed a jumbo. In 2007, Airbus, the major European competitor of the American company, launched the A380. This double-decker giant is still the largest passenger airliner ever, with up to 615 seats. For carriers whose primary concern was moving huge numbers of people across their hubs, the aircraft became the favourite. A new breed of “superconductive” airlines, such as Emirates and Qatar, have built their business models around it. Emirates operates 118 A380s and not 747. Recently, airlines have been lured by new ultra-range, ultra-efficient aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777. These aircraft carry nearly as many passengers, but only have two engines, making them economically viable. to fly more than ever before. To the point of long distance routes. Jumbo could not survive in this competitive pincer. The sick Queen of Heaven was already on her deathbed when the pestilence killed her.
However, the future of large passenger planes is starting to look brighter than it did before Covid-19 hit, even if the 747 is no longer among their number. (And the A380 can’t be long, because of those new long-range planes.) Air traffic has rebounded from the effects of the pandemic. But analysts believe that in the age of Zoom, leisure travelers will return to the skies more easily than business travelers. Those on the company’s dime are more likely to pay a premium to board a flight at a more convenient time, which means carriers must offer them more frequent flights on smaller planes. But vacationers are more interested in the price than in a civilized departure time. They are also more likely to book early. This makes their custom less profitable, but means they can be stuffed into larger aircraft. The Queen may be dead, but the monarchy is alive and well.■
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