Goodbye 747?

By Deane Barker on August 15, 2004

Is this old bird about to get its wings clipped?: The venerable 747 is finding itself less and less popular these days.

…airlines don’t like the 747’s fuel bills. It burns about 3,200 gallons of fuel per flight hour, about one-third more than the Boeing 777 […] Air carriers also have a hard time finding 400-plus paying passengers to fill flights.

This is too bad, as the 747 is a majestic plane. I still remember having to walk underneath one of them to get to a customs shuttle when returned from New Zealand once — it was just breathtaking how big the thing was.

Sadly, The popularity stats are sobering.

…airlines fly 635 of the jumbos in passenger service, down 21% from the peak year of 1997…

The number of U.S. carriers flying the bulbous-nosed giant has fallen to two: United and Northwest. There were eight as recently as 1990. The number of daily domestic flights on the 747 has dropped to just 10, down from a peak of 102 a quarter of a century ago, Back says.

While the cargo version remains popular, airlines haven’t ordered a passenger version of the 747 since November 2002.

And what does this mean for the future of the Airbus A3XX? That plane is designed to seat 555 people. Singapore Airlines just ordered 16 of them.

While the A3XX is massive, the thing that made the 747 look big was the “hump” over the front of the plane. (I remember an old joke about why the hump was there: because the pilots had to sit on their wallets — it was funny when I was seven.) But if you look closely at the A3XX, it is a true two-story plane all the way down the fuselage, while the 747 just had an upperdeck towards the front, under the hump.