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The Jumbo Jet Was the Pinnacle of Air Luxury—Now Its Days Are Numbered

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.”

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Former Top Boeing 737 MAX Officials Defend Design Process

Previous MAX program manager and chief engineer in closed-door congressional interviews stand by Boeing’s design of the plane

Two high-ranking executives who oversaw Boeing Co. development of the 737 MAX told House investigators the company’s design process wasn’t flawed despite two fatal crashes, a contrast to other company leaders’ concessions of past engineering errors.

The Chicago plane maker is approaching the final steps of getting its beleaguered MAX fleet returned to service. Lawmakers, safety experts and global regulators have previously identified technical and management lapses in the airplane’s development.

Transcripts of closed-door interviews in May with Keith Leverkuhn and Michael Teal, who directly managed MAX development through the aircraft’s 2017 debut, are part of a final congressional report slated to be released this coming week detailing a series of company and government missteps during and after certification of the MAX.

Their stance shows that nearly two years after the first fatal crash, there are differing views inside Boeing and a continuing debate across parts of the industry about the significance of pilot mistakes versus Boeing design flaws as factors in the MAX crashes.

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FAA, Boeing Blasted Over 737 MAX Failures in Democratic Report

Transportation Committee’s findings blame design errors, flawed aircraft certification system for fatal errors

House Democrats issued a sharply worded report revealing new details of how the combination of Boeing Co. BA 4.19% design errors, lax government oversight and lack of transparency by the plane maker and regulators set the stage for two fatal 737 MAX crashes.

The 238-page document, written by the majority staff of the House Transportation Committee, calls into question whether the plane maker or the Federal Aviation Administration has fully incorporated essential safety lessons, despite a global grounding of the MAX fleet since March 2019.

After an 18-month investigation, the report, released Wednesday, concludes that Boeing’s travails stemmed partly from a reluctance to admit mistakes and “point to a company culture that is in serious need of a safety reset.”

“We have learned many hard lessons as a company from the accidents of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Flight 302, and from the mistakes we have made,” Boeing said in a written response to the report, referring to the two fatal MAX crashes. The Chicago-based aerospace giant added: “We have been hard at work strengthening our safety culture and rebuilding trust with our customers, regulators, and the flying public.”

The findings released Wednesday also questioned whether pending changes inside the FAA would be sufficient to end what the report describes as fundamentally inadequate government reviews of new aircraft designs. Engineering and management errors on the MAX, according to the report, reflect a flawed approval process in which agency managers often undercut the authority of lower-level FAA engineers, giving industry undue influence over the process.

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Aerospace Suppliers Brace for Hard Landing

Coronavirus-driven travel slump leads to mounting job losses as plane makers cut output and airlines curb flying

Companies that make parts for Boeing Co. BA and Airbus SE EADSY jets, and provide airlines with everything from engine spares to window shades, are shrinking rapidly in the wake of the pandemic-driven travel downturn.

The Precision Castparts unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BRK.B +0.29% this week became the latest supplier to flag huge job cuts as the maker of aircraft-engine parts said it had shed 10,000 staff—30% of its workforce—since the start of the year.

Warren Buffett’s investment vehicle took a $10 billion write-down on its 2015 acquisition, highlighting how the crisis gripping the airline industry is expected to linger. The world’s two biggest plane makers signaled to suppliers that they plan to lower jet production for several years.
U.S. aerospace manufacturers have already shed more than 100,000 jobs since the start of the year, according to Labor Department data and regulatory filings, with the pandemic adding to existing pressures from the sharply reduced production of the still-grounded Boeing 737 MAX jet. Sector employment had climbed to almost a million at the end of last year and fell to 925,000 by June 30. Job cuts have continued to mount in recent weeks.

The biggest supplier on the MAX program, Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc., is cutting 8,000 jobs, around 40% of its commercial aerospace workforce. General Electric Co. is shedding 13,000 from its aviation unit, and other big suppliers such as Raytheon Technologies Corp., Howmet Aerospace Inc. and France’s Safran SA have disclosed cuts in recent weeks.

“We have received more production schedule changes this year than I think we’ve seen in the last five years,” said Spirit Chief Financial Officer Mark Suchinski on a recent earnings call.

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