For nearly half a century, the Boeing 747 - known affectionately as the "Queen of the Skies" - has connected continents and people. Its popularity, along with its iconic hump, has also made it the most recognized airplane plane around the world.
However, in recent years it has faced a decline in interest from airlines who favor more fuel-efficient aircraft. The hub-and-spoke system which has for long dominated the aviation industry has shifted to point-to-point travel using smaller aircraft with a long reach. Out of over 1500 747s delivered, less than half of them are currently used by airlines throughout the world. As airlines retire their Boeing 747s, the once dominant long-range jet are becoming a more difficult catch for avid aviation geeks and travellers.
While end is in sight for mass 747 production, travellers can still experience flying aboard the jumbo jets on several airlines throughout the world. If you happen to be within the Asia/Pacific region, you may have a much better chance of catching one of them for a nice photo or a flight over the Pacific.
Asia's Legacy Carriers
While many Asian-based legacy carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Japan Airlines have retired their 747 aircraft, the region still hosts airlines operating the iconic jumbos.
Air China has three 747-400s, with plans to replace them with new 747-8i. The Beijing-based airline currently deploys the jumbos on high-density domestic routes within China such as between Shanghai and Beijing. It is also used to cities such as New York and San Francisco.
Asiana Airlines still has two 747s left on its fleet, used mostly for flights within Asia to cities such as Manila, Taipei, Ho Chi Minh, and Da Nang.
Asiana's fellow Korean counterpart, Korean Air has announced plans to retire their existing 747-400s, but like Air China has a handful of the new 747-8s. Korean's 747 operations are used on intra-Asia routes such as to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur. It is also used on long-haul flights to the US and Europe.
Taipei-based China Airlines has four remaining 747s with no immediate plans to retire them. They can be seen flying to several regional cities such as Bangkok, Naha, Sapporo, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong from Taiwan.
Thai Airways also has 10 747-400s, which are currently used for mostly intra-Asia flights. It does use the jumbos on some domestic routes within Thailand, such as between Bangkok-Phuket. The airline does have plans to phase out the jumbo jets by the year 2020.
In addition to Asia's legacy carriers, a few European-based carriers still operate flights to the region using the 747s.
While it is slowly phasing out its 747 fleet, KLM still operates flights using the aircraft to Hong Kong and Seoul. It's German counterpart Lufthansa uses both the 747-400 and 747-8 to cities such as Seoul, Osaka, and Tokyo.
Among the European carriers still using the jumbo jets to Asia is British Airways. With 36 747s, it has the largest 747 fleet of any airline in the world.
While its large 747 fleet still operates flights to various cities throughout the world, British Airways is planning to cut the fleet in half by 2021. With the airline expecting to retire all its 747s by the year 2024, you'll still have plenty time to catch a BA fleet using a 747 until then.
As observers point out the end is near for passenger flights on the 747, it still a popular aircraft among freight carriers. While orders have stalled for the passenger version, cargo carriers have continued to place orders for the cargo variant of the popular jet.
While many carriers have retired their fleet of passenger 747, some of the very same airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Korean operate cargo flights using 747 freighters. While Airbus has not made an equivalent version of the 747 freighters despite having the Airbus A380, the 747 could still be relevant for transporting cargo in the years to come.
An Increasingly Difficult Catch
If demand doesn't pick up, Boeing may soon end production of the 747. While production may end, there's still some opportunities to catch a flight aboard the jumbo jet. However, they will become more limited as the very same airlines continue to swap out the jumbos for the new A350s and 787s over the next decade.
You'll still have a few years to catch a flight aboard a 747 before those planes join their older counterparts at a nearby airplane graveyard.