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Boeing 747: End of the Line for Four-Engine Gas-Guzzling Plane?

Image: Boeing 747: End of the Line for Four-Engine Gas-Guzzling Plane?

Thursday, 24 Oct 2013 04:11 PM

By David Ogul

Aviation experts are wondering if Boeing’s iconic 747 jumbo jet is nearing the end of the line.

Chicago-based Boeing has twice cut production targets on the gas guzzlers in the last six months alone, The Associated Press reported. Only 18 are scheduled to be manufactured in each of the next two years, and the company hadn’t sold a single 747 this year until Korean Air recently committed on Thursday to buying five.

Boeing says it isn’t backing off the 747. But the AP says that in an era of efficiency, airline executives prefer newer two-engine jets that can fly the same distance as a four-engine 747 without using anywhere near the same amount of fuel.

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“We had four engines when jet engine technology wasn’t advanced,” the AP quoted Delta Air Lines Inc.’s chief executive officer, Richard Anderson, as saying at a recent news conference. “Now jet engines are amazing, amazing machines and you only need two of them.”

Boeing is doing well financially without the 747, and its latest quarterly earnings reports show a surge in sales of commercial jets. The manufacturer is banking much of its future on the new 787 Dreamliner, and The New York Times reports Boeing, which will gradually increase production of the more fuel-efficient aircraft to 10 a month, has said it plans to raise that to 12 per month in 2016 and 14 a month before 2020.

AP noted that Boeing has a backlog of nearly 4,800 planes, with the best-selling 737 making up most of that share.

Production of the Boeing 747 began in the late 1960s and reached 122 in 1990. It sold more than 1,400 of the aircraft before it was redesigned two years ago. But technology propelled more efficient engines to come into production, and when aviation officials allowed for some two-engine planes to fly over the ocean, aircraft such as the Airbus A330 and the Boeing 777 have become more dominant.

Referring to Korean Air’s decision on Thursday to buy several 747s, the aviation website Airchive.com wrote, “While the order is certainly good news, Boeing’s iconic 747 program is certainly far from out of the woods. Sales have come in for both the passenger and cargo versions at a snail’s pace in 2013 as demand for large four-engined aircraft continues to wane."

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