Boeing just about gives up on the 747
Even the cargo market's dried up for the Jumbo Jet. Next stop, elephant's graveyard?
Boeing will reduce the number of 747s it makes to just one every two months, citing a collapse in demand for the iconic aircraft.
The company previously announced plans to slow production from 1.3 jets a month to just one a month, with the new and lower production rate expected to kick in from March.
Now the company says it will take a $885m charge as it winds back its 747-building capability.
The newest 747 model, the 747-8, arrived in 2012 complete with plenty of the advanced manufacturing techniques employed in the 787 and other, newer, lighter and cheaper-to-operate aircraft. But the new Jumbo Jet hasn't sold well: just 121 have been ordered – and of those, only 51 were passenger jets.
The original 747 is credited with pioneering affordable long-haul travel and therefore making a massive contribution to global tourism. The 747-400 arguably pulled off the same trick, making twelve hour hops such as Europe to major Asian cities possible without a tiresome and time-consuming touchdown for more fuel.
However, improvements in the reliability and power of jet engines means it is now possible to build twin-engined aircraft that rival the Jumbo Jet's capacity and range. That makes the four-engined 747s more expensive to operate, and therefore a less attractive purchase, for both passenger and cargo operators. Boeing cashed in on this trend with its own 777, an aircraft that in some configurations can carry more than 450 passengers.
Passenger carriers ordered no new 747s in 2015. Cargo operators, Boeing says, aren't buying much of anything at the moment as demand for air freight falls. Which is a worrying economic indicator for a host of other reasons.
Production capacity of half a dozen 747s a year means Boeing doesn't have a lot of skin left in the 747 game. One order it will, however, almost certainly fill is that from the White House for new 747-8s to serve as presidential transports.
The US military still likes quad-engine airliners for reasons of reliability and redundancy and also appreciates the 747-8's hefty airframe as it allows for installation of whatever it is that's required to keep presidents alive in the event of airborne peril. ®