ANA will retire its 747s next month

Lufthansa is the only major passenger airline now flying the 747-8, the newest model of the iconic plane. Other airlines have decided the aircraft is not financially viable. Photo: Lufthansa

Lufthansa is the only major passenger airline now flying the 747-8, the newest model of the iconic plane. Other airlines have decided the aircraft is not financially viable. Could this the end of the line for the 747? Photo: Lufthansa

Another major airline is retiring its Boeing 747s — the airliner nicknamed the “Queen of the Skies.”

This time, according to Christine Negroni writing in the New York Times, the airline is Japan’s All Nippon Airways. ANA and JAL — Japan’s top two carriers — each started operating 747s in the 1970s, but JAL retired its final 747s in 2011. People, especially aviation nerds, love the airplane, but it’s no longer practical for a lot of airlines.

“Emotions, however, are no match for economics when it comes to a four-engine airplane and jet fuel that costs $123 a barrel,” Negroni wrote in the Times. “Along with the two Japanese carriers, Cathay Pacific and Singapore have also eliminated the 747 from their fleets, and Air India, Air New Zealand and Taiwan’s EVA Air are planning to do the same.”

ANA expects to have its final 747 flight on March 31, according to the Times.

There’s some question about whether this is only a 747 issue, or whether the market has dried up for super large jetliners. People get excited about the double-decker Airbus A380, but the future, some say, is in smaller 777s, 787s and Airbus A350s. In addition to generally having fewer seats than the 747, those planes have only two engines, which makes them considerably cheaper to operate. (Airbus is supposed to deliver its first A350 later this year, to Qatar Airways.)

“Many airline executives, however, say market changes are to blame for the slow sales,” Negroni wrote. “They say the mammoth airliner is history — and  (ANA’s chief executive officer, Osamu) Shinobe, is one of them. When he first saw the 747 in 1979, he said, the Japanese air travel market was booming and the jumbo’s 500-plus seats, in domestic configuration, far outmatched the next biggest airplane, the 320-seat Lockheed L-1011. Now, he says, the airline does not need that capacity: ‘Domestic will not grow so much anymore.’”

There is a new model of the 747 called the 747-8, which Lufthansa started flying in 2012. It is more efficient than its predecessors, but it is so far not selling well. 

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