Jumbo Jets Cleared to Land… For Good?
Since its rollout in 1970, Boeing has sold over 1,500 747 aircraft. Known by its distinct front hump, the 747 has been dubbed the “Queen of the Skies”, despite being smaller than its competitor, the newer Airbus A380. The 747 typically carries 410 passengers in a standard configuration, while the A380 can carry 544 passengers. While it’s easy to see why these two birds have earned the nickname Jumbo Jet, It is also easy to see that the aircraft are almost ready to be retired and discontinued.
Currently, there are 661 747’s still in service and in the skies: 253 passenger jets, 374 cargo variants and 34 VIP or government owned aircraft. At the end of May 2017, there were only 5 unfilled orders for the most recent model of the 747: the 747-8, as well as 15 unfilled cargo freighter orders. For Airbus, 100 planes have yet to be delivered, with a total of 217 built since its rollout in 2005. All of the A380s are passenger configurations, and Airbus is no longer exploring a cargo version as it is currently developing the Beluga freighter.
So why are the jumbo jets losing popularity amongst airlines? Fuel costs are a major factor. Even with low fuel costs, jumbo jets are still gas guzzlers, and lack the fuel efficiency technology that manufacturers are putting into their smaller planes, which are in greater demand. Why? Operating costs. The A380 has an operating cost of between $26,000 and $29,000 per hour. Comparing that to a smaller Boeing 737-800, the 737 can fly for $2,180 an hour. With planes that fly for a cheaper operation cost, airlines make a larger profit, despite the fact that the jumbos can carry more paying passengers. Even though these planes can fly farther than a 737 for example, manufacturers have used those fuel efficiency technologies to create their newest products: the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350. The 787, also known as the Dreamliner can carry anywhere from 242 to 330 passengers, while the A350 has a capacity of anywhere between 280 to 366 passengers. While these twin-aisle wide body jets are considerably smaller than their jumbo counterparts, the range of these aircraft is comparable. On the American side, the 787 has a range of 14,140 km, and the 747 has a range of 14,816 km. For the European Airbus, the A350’s range is 15,000 km and the A380’s range is 15,200 km.
While the appeal of flying on a double decker plane is cool in appearance, economically it’s a different story. The future of commercial aviation are smaller planes, and the manufacturers have delivered with the launch of the 787 and the A350. While Boeing has conceded that the 747 no longer will carry passengers in the future, the queen is predicted to survive in the cargo freighter market. This as the only american carriers still flying the 747, Delta and United, have plans in place to retire their planes by the end of this year. Airbus, on the other hand, still believes that there is a future for the A380, and is already developing the A380plus, a more fuel efficient model for the world’s largest passenger plane. No matter the case, only time will tell the future for the jumbo jet, but with the current trend, the skies will be dominated by the smaller planes, leaving the queens to be sent to the scrap yard.
“Airbus A380.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, Inc, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A380.
“Boeing 747.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, Inc, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_747.
“Boeing.” Boeing: 787 Dreamliner, Boeing, www.boeing.com/commercial/787/.
Gates, Dominic. “Boeing Admits Its 747 ‘Queen of the Skies’ Has No Future as Passenger Plane.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 20 June 2017, 11:10 AM, www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/boeing-admits-its-747-queen-of-the-skies-has-no-future-as-passenger-plane/.
Goldstein, Michael. “Operating Costs Killing Jumbo Jets As Airlines Profit From Smaller Planes.” Forbes, Forbes Media LLC, 5 Oct. 2017, 8:25 PM, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelgoldstein/2017/10/05/operating-costs-killing-jumbo-jets-as-airlines-profit-from-smaller-planes/#7b753237336a.“Technical Specifications & Range.” A350 XWB by Airbus, Airbus SAS, www.a350xwb.com/technical-specifications/.