The last Boeing 747 rolled off the assembly line after more than 50 years of production

The last Boeing 747, number 1574, at the Everett, Washington plant.

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

EVERETT, Washington BoeingThe last 747 rolled out of the company’s factory cave north of Seattle on Tuesday evening as the airlines’ push for more fuel-efficient planes ended more than half a century of the jumbo jet’s production run.

The 1574 – and final – 747 would later be flown by a Boeing test pilot, painted and handed over to a cargo and charter carrier. Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings early next year.

“This is obviously a very surreal time,” said Kim Smith, vice president and general manager of the Boeing 747 and 767 programs, from here at the assembly plant. “For the first time in over 50 years, we won’t have a 747 at this facility.”

A lone Boeing 747, covered in green sheeting, stood inside the company’s massive assembly plant in Everett, the largest building in the world by volume, according to Boeing. The building was built specifically for the start of the production of jet aircraft in 1967.

Inside, Boeing crews have spent the last few days installing undercarriages, adjusting cargo handling systems and finishing interiors before the last 63-foot-tall, 250-foot-long plane leaves the building. Ribs with logos of customers who bought part of one of the doors of the 747th line.

The ending of 747 production doesn’t mean the aircraft will completely disappear from the sky, as new models can fly for decades. However, they have become rare in commercial navies. United and Delta said goodbye to their aircraft years before the Covid pandemic, and Qantas and British Airways landed their 747s for good in 2020 during the global travel downturn.

“It was a great plane. He served us brilliantly,” said British Airways CEO Sean Doyle on the sidelines of an event at John F. Kennedy International Airport with a partner. american airlines last week. “There’s a lot of nostalgia and love in it, but when we look to the future, it’s about modern aircraft, more efficiency, and more sustainable solutions.”

The humpbacked Boeing 747 is one of the most recognizable jetliners that helped make international travel more affordable after its first commercial flight in January 1970. Its four powerful engines were efficient for their time. The planes could carry hundreds of passengers at once for long haul flights.

Huge planes have also made it easier to transport goods around the world by air, helping companies cater to the most discerning consumer tastes in everything from electronics to cheese.

The end of the airplane has come as Boeing works to rebuild its footing after a series of crises, including two fatal crashes of its best-selling 737 Max narrow-body aircraft that killed a total of 346 people.

A pandemic downturn in travel has given way to a boom in new aircraft orders, but production problems have delayed deliveries of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner wide-body aircraft. The company does not expect its 777X, its largest new aircraft, to be ready for customers until early 2025. In addition, it has yet to deliver two 747s for use as Air Force One, but they have also experienced delays and cost overruns. .

Boeing shares are down about 8% this year by Monday’s close, compared to about a 16% drop for the market as a whole. Despite a recent loss, Boeing shares are up about 53% this quarter. United’s plan to buy dozens of Dreamliners, possibly by the end of the year, has helped boost stocks.

The last Boeing 747, number 1574, at the Everett, Washington plant.

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said last month that “there will come a time when we pull the rabbit out of the hat and introduce a new aircraft sometime in the middle of the next decade,” saying technology should offer more fuel. saving.

Ending production of the 747 was “inevitable, but it would be a little nicer if they made something new,” said Richard Abulafia, managing director of consulting firm AeroDynamic Advisory.

Despite all their achievements, airlines have long been demanding more fuel-efficient aircraft. Boeing’s own twin-body and twin-engine aircraft, the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner, have been in the spotlight along with rivals from main competitor Airbus.

Airlines are generally avoiding four-engine aircraft, giving way to twin-engine aircraft.

“The biggest enemy of Boeing ATVs was the Boeing twins,” Abulafia said.

Airbus also ended production of its Airbus A380 after 14 years of service, handing over the last of the world’s largest passenger aircraft a year ago. Such giant aircraft are designed to carry passengers through hub airports, but travelers often look for shorter, non-stop routes.

According to AeroDynamic Advisory, citing data from the Center for Aviation, there were 542 Boeing 747s in 1990, representing 28% of the world’s wide-body passenger fleet. The 109 Boeing 747s account for just 2% of the global wide-body passenger fleet this year, according to CAPA.

The dominance of aircraft in the air cargo market has also waned, even as air travel has become a bright spot during the pandemic. According to CAPA, the Boeing 747 makes up 21% of the world’s wide-body aircraft fleet, up from 71% in 1990. Airbus has begun selling a freighter version of its wide-body competitor, the A350, and Boeing is selling a freighter version of the 777X as airlines gear up for stricter emissions standards.

The engineers, mechanics and others who worked on the 747 will move on to other aircraft production programs as the manufacturer attempts to ramp up production, Smith said.

“These programs are very eager and kind of knocking on our door to get such high talent to join their team,” she said.

CNBC Gabriel Cortes contributed to this article.

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