It’s very likely the only commercial airplane almost anyone can identify by name and sight. This aerial humpback has been the biggest, best-known icon of Boeing since it was first unveiled in 1968, and now, after more than 1,500 have been sold, it finally looks like Boeing may be ending production of the legendary 747.
Production this year is going to be down to just six aircraft, CNN Money reports. That’s pretty low, though it’s by no means the lowest: orders were at -1 and production at 0 for 2010, though orders have always fluctuated wildly, peaking in 1990 with 122 planes ordered.
This time, though Boeing has suggested that, if orders don’t pick up, it’s reasonably possible they could end production of the 747. We know this because in a regulatory filing, they said: “It is reasonably possible that we could decide to end production of the 747.”
If you want more exciting, two-fisted regulatory-text detail, here’s the entire paragraph about the 747 Program:
Lower-than-expected demand for large commercial passenger and freighter aircraft and slower-than-expected growth of global freight traffic have continued to drive market uncertainties, pricing pressures and fewer orders than anticipated. As a result, during the second quarter of 2016, we canceled previous plans to return to a production rate of 1.0 aircraft per month beginning in 2019, resulting in a reduction in the program accounting quantity from 1,574 to 1,555 aircraft.
[...] If we are unable to obtain sufficient orders and/or market, production and other risks cannot be mitigated, we could record additional losses that may be material, and it is reasonably possible that we could decide to end production of the 747.
Airlines and air freight companies are increasingly moving to smaller, twin-engine aircraft that use less fuel, and the overall air cargo business has been slowing down.
Also, NASA no longer has to haul shuttles around on a 747, so there’s one less order.
The next Air Force One will still be a 747, though, and given the longevity of aircraft, especially the 747, even if production stopped tomorrow these huge beauties will still be in the skies for decades to come.
I just hope that before they disappear I finally get to fly on one of these that actually has the upper-deck lounge area, instead of more first-class seating. There’s something really appealing about drinking something clear with gin in it on the upper deck of an airplane.