Later this month, Cathay Pacific’s 747 will fly from San Francisco to Hong Kong for the very last time. It’s a story we’re hearing from nearly every airline still flying the most recognizable passenger jet in aviation history – rising fuel costs are prompting carriers to ground their fleets, opting to shuttle passengers in more modern (and efficient) airliners instead. Hundreds of 747s still take to the skies every day, but their numbers are dwindling, with Boeing’s 777-300ER and 787 Dreamliner, as well as the enormous Airbus A380, picking up the slack. The flagships of yesteryear now litter the desert, with several sites in California serving as a permanent resting place for the plane that was once known as the Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747-400.
The 400, the most prolific 747 type, first entered service with Northwest Airlines in 1989. It was the fourth iteration of Boeing’s popular jumbo, featuring a more advanced flight deck, a lighter build and, perhaps most importantly, a significantly boosted range. The most recent iteration can travel more than 8,000 miles, enabling airlines to fly from North America to Southeast Asia or Australia without stopping to refuel. An extended-range model, which added fuel tanks to the cargo hold, is used exclusively by Qantas. That plane has a nearly 9,000-mile range, which covers the 8,500-mile trek from Sydney to Dallas, Texas (with a fueling stop on the longer westbound return). The Airbus A380 will replace the 747-400ER on that route beginning in September.