There is no reason to celebrate this milestone birthday. In 1970 Boeing launched the first model of its new aircraft 747, the legendary jumbo jet, delivered to the airline Pan Am. Now, 50 years later, the American aircraft manufacturer has announced that production will be discontinued. The last planes are to be built in 2022, but they will continue to fly for a long time, even as cargo planes. Boeing competitor Airbus already had an end for its super plane last year A 380 announced.
It is the end of an era of megalomania. For decades, the aircraft industry and airline companies have had the same: bigger, faster, further. Everyone wanted to outdo the other, whatever the cost. Each airline ordered larger and larger planes and packed them with passengers. The fact that the two most important aircraft manufacturers are now announcing the end of their former flagship models is a symbol of the situation in the industry. After the almost senseless growth, it now has to change direction urgently. The global corona epidemic, which has suddenly and almost completely brought air traffic to a standstill, is dramatically aggravating a development that has been going on for years anyway.
The 747 was celebrated as the “Queen of the Skies”
The two-storey jumbo jet, with its characteristic hump and space for around 600 passengers, was developed as early as the 1960s, when it was a testament to what American engineers can do. The jumbo jet can also be described as the pioneer for global air traffic. The American president traditionally still uses this prestige model as Air Force One for larger trips abroad. The 747 was celebrated as the “Queen of the Skies” and was the world’s largest passenger aircraft for a long time until Airbus launched the even larger A 380. In contrast to its European competitor, Boeing made very good profits on the model for many decades, of which a total of around 1550 units have so far been delivered.
But Boeing, now in a very serious crisis after the crash of two 737 Max aircraft, has – like Airbus – held on to the top model for far too long. Because the world has changed fundamentally, long before the outbreak of the virus epidemic. Gone are the days when almost everyone believed that the world needed large machines like the Jumbo-Jet and the A 380. Traffic is not always growing, it is no longer just between the world’s mega-hubs, but more and more medium-sized airports are being connected. Passengers prefer to fly directly rather than having to change trains – and this applies even more in corona times when nobody wants to make stopovers that only pose an additional risk of infection.
In the future, economical and efficient machines will be in demand
In addition, as Corona shows, air traffic has become more volatile, many airlines are afraid of the very great risk of buying, if at all, rather smaller aircraft that they can get full of in a possible crisis. In addition, the two major aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing are victims of their own success, so to speak. Because the new, somewhat smaller machines, A 350 or Dreamliner, are so good and economical that they now make the giant planes superfluous. With only two instead of four engines, they are more economical and environmentally friendly.
As brave and visionary as it once was to get giant aircrafts like the Jumbo-Jet and the A 380 into the air, the decision to stop producing the two models is now overdue. British Airways has already shut down its 747 fleet. It may take a long time for aviation to return to its old level. It was just said that the recovery in passenger numbers was “surprisingly weak”. In future, large aircraft will no longer be in demand anyway, but economical and efficient machines, perhaps even with alternative engines.