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Boeing and Airbus are winding down production of the 747 and A380, planes that ended up being too big for their own good

It’s time to eulogize the passing of the 747 and A380, engineering marvels that defied gravity, tantalized travelers with luxurious cabin space and opened intercontinental travel to the masses by making cheap fares plentiful.

The pandemic sped up their demise, which seemed inevitable regardless. There’s little doubt air travel will see weaker demand for several years, which is a killer for enormous airplanes that require strong demand to fill seats. The losses will be mourned by many travelers, and will be particularly hard on airplane aficionados for whom these incredible machines represented jet nirvana.

But from the beginning, both jumbo jets were too big for most markets, and the only way airlines could fill them was by offering very cheap fares. And while travelers profit from cheap fares, airlines don’t.

Boeing announced at the end of July that it would discontinue 747 production in 2022 when it finishes building the last 15 freighters on order. The last passenger version of the 747 was delivered in 2017, though two planes built for an airline but never delivered will become Air Force One presidential transport.

Almost all 747s at passenger airlines are grounded, according to Cirium, an aviation data and analytics company. Several big airlines that fly the older 747-400 say those planes are done. The newer 747-8, flown by three airlines, likely will return to service. There are just 35 of those.

Airlines have grounded most 747s during the pandemic, and most won’t ever fly passengers again. Here’s a breakdown.

Airlines recently saying their 747s won’t return: British Airways, Qantas, KLM and Virgin Atlantic

Airlines that previously retired passenger 747s: United, Delta, Cathay Pacific and Singapore

Airlines with the newer 747-8: Lufthansa, Korean Air and Air China

Airbus announced in February that it will end production of its superjumbo A380 in 2021, again after the last remaining dozen or so airplanes on order are delivered. You might say airlines announced the end of the A380 long ago because big orders just never materialized, except at Emirates. “The A380 is not only an outstanding engineering and industrial achievement. Passengers all over the world love to fly on this great aircraft. Hence today’s announcement is painful for us,’’ Airbus said when announcing the end of production. “A380s will still roam the skies for many years to come.”

Excerpt from WSJ
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