As Qantas counts down to the delivery of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner in October 2017, the clock is also ticking away on the airline's dwindling fleet of Boeing 747 jumbo jets – once the iconic mainstay of the Qantas international network.
By the middle of 2018, when Qantas expects to have four Dreamliners in its hangars, its two oldest Boeing 747s – one which arrived in 1991, the other in 1998 – will be put out to pasture.
These aircraft are notable for their inclusion of dated first class seats in the jumbo's nose (shown below), and are most often seen on flights from Sydney to Tokyo, Johannesburg and Santiago.
By mid-2019, with a total of eight Boeing 787s in Qantas stripe, three more red-tailed Boeing 747s will have made their final flight.
These will be largely replaced by the streamlined Boeing 787 or one of Qantas' six remaining long-range Boeing 747-400ER models which currently fly to Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
Farewell to the Queen
Dubbed the Queen of the Skies by its many fans, the Boeing 747 has been overtaken by the larger and more advanced Airbus A380 and the high-tech Boeing 787.
Qantas took delivery of its first Boeing 747 in September 1971, with the jet showcasing a new livery which has since been brought back to life on the Boeing 737 RetroRoo.
The 747 was an ambitious roll of the dice by Boeing, which believed that commercial travel would inevitably embrace the supersonic speeds of the Concorde – and Boeing's own 2707 SST.
The jumbo's long range meant that direct flights and one-stop journeys became the norm, with more passengers enjoying more comfort en route.
It also democratised travel away from the elite jetset, bringing international fares within reach of anybody earning an average wage.
At the same time, airlines temporarily went wild with the prospects of using the jumbo's extra floor space to offer cocktail lounges (including Qantas' own Captain Cook Lounge)...
... dining rooms...
and, courtesy of American Airlines, piano bars.
In the decades to follow, however the Boeing 747 lost ground – and sales – to more efficient aircraft such as Boeing's own 777 twin-jet and the Airbus A380 superjumbo.
Boeing proposed several alternatives to the A380 – among them the 747X and the 747-400XQLR (Quiet Long Range) – but failing to find favour with airlines, none made it off the drawing board.
In 2011 the company eventually launched the Boeing 747-8 – a stretched version of the 747-400 which adapted technology from the 787 Dreamliner – but sales of the 747-8F Freighter cargo version embarrassingly outstripped those of the 747-8I Intercontinental passenger model.
Boeing's production of the 747-8 series has slumped to just six aircraft a year, with what could be the final orders coming in as 14 cargo jets for UPS and up to three highly-modified 747-8I commercial jets to serve as Air Force One from 2024.
Meanwhile, airlines around the world are replacing their ageing Boeing 747s with modern fuel-efficient jets such as the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350.
US carriers Delta and United will retire their last Boeing 747s by the end of this year, while Cathay Pacific's final 747 took her victory lap and flew off into the sunset in October 2016.
Qantas hasn't revealed when its final six Boeing 747s will take their victory lap and head off into the sunset, but if they turn in the same 20 years of flying as their siblings, these jumbos – delivered to Qantas across 2002-2003 – could be with us until the middle of the next decade, more than 50 years since the jumbo first took to the skies.
By then Qantas will be drawing close to a replacement for its flagship Airbus A380 such as the Boeing 777X, with non-stop flights to New York in its sights.
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