The end of the Boeing 747 & memories and thoughts about aviation

The first Boeing 747 prototype, the N7470 "City of Everett", with F-86 Chase Plane on its first flight on February 9, 1969. (source)

When I was about 6, I really got an admiration for aeroplanes. I liked them all, but if there's one plane that I admired the most, it's probably the iconic Boeing 747.

I don't know why. Perhaps because it was so big, and it had a double floor. I had a show-and-tell about airplanes, and I made a huge drawing of the Boeing 747-400 for it.

Not much later, I got to be extremely fortunate to actually fly on a Boeing 747-400. I was 6 or 7. At the airport, I saw a lot of airplanes through the windows. And on nearly every plane I'd ask my parents "is our plane about as large as that?" and they'd say larger. And when I finally saw the 747 through the large windows, I was mesmerized. It's huge. And I got to fly on it, too! I was kind of nervous for the takeoff, never flown before, but it proved to be exciting. A lot of noise, force on my chest. My head was glued to the window for the next hour or so. After some time, I got to have drinks and food. The staff was really nice. I also went upstairs where the first class was seated(but I didn't know). The first time the crew didn't notice, but the second time a flight attendant noticed me and quickly approached me because she was probably afraid I bothered the passengers. But I got to stay for a few minutes on a nice location. Back to my seat, I once again gaze out the window. I also remember monitors on the ceiling displaying movies(before "in-flight entertainment", screens in the seat in front of you, displaying movies of your choice), and music in your seat. The 9 hour flight didn't feel so long.

I also saved money for a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator X (gold edition), so I could fly the Boeing 747-400 myself(virtually, of course). It took me a while before I realized I needed to put the flaps up in order to take off...

Back to the present. After more than 50 years, the end of the Boeing 747 production is in sight. Boeing quietly hinted that they would stop producing it once all orders were Demand has fallen low. Many airlines, such as British Airways,BBC KLM,ifn Qantas and Virgin Atlantic,businessinsider all decided to retire the 747 soon, or already have.

There's also the Airbus A380. Even bigger: very efficient per seat. However, it did not achieve the success of the Boeing 747, and Airbus decided to stop production in 2021, when all orders are finished.CNN

You see, the A380 is big. Really big. Lots of seats. But you know, aviation grew from the hub-and-spoke system to the point-to-point system. It used to be like that there were a few big airports and big airplanes would fly between them, and from there you would go to somewhere else. But it grew away from that, rather going from minor airport to another minor airport straight. The Airbus A380 is not up to this task. It requires it to carry a lot of passengers, and with point-to-point, that simply doesn't work. And to a great extend, the 747 has the same problems. It however has the luxury that it can also be converted to a cargo plane.the guardian (See also: Why are the Jumbo-jets disappearing? by Mentour Pilot)

This was before the Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic, is another kick in the groin for the hub-and-spoke model. Now even long-distance popular flights are no longer popular, making it even harder for the 747 and the A380 to make sense.

Back to the story. Back then, flying was special. Some kids went on shorter distanced flights on vacation, but that was rare. Most kids went by car. Flying now however... man. The last flight I had five years back, was not nearly as romantic. On an Airbus A330(probably) operated by Thomas Cook. No food, no drinks, except if you pay a lot of money. There was no in flight entertainment, but there was a piece of paper telling you that it would cost money had it been there. The seats didn't feel nice. The magic of flying did remedy some of the discomfort, and my earlier memories are probably a little romanticized, but still.

Everyone flies to vacations these days. They go on vacation, and of course they tell me they go on one of these budget airlines, where the things so straightforward, things where you didn't even suspect could be charged money for, costs money. People crammed together in a small plane. Everything for efficiency, at the cost of comfort. Third class flying: everybody is doing it.

I can't blame them. It's cheap. Still expensive, but cheap enough it seems. And, it's still flying; it's accessibility also has upsides. And, other means of transport are taxed. Go with the train? VAT. And there's tax on the electricity the train uses. Go with the bus? VAT, and also excise duty on the fuel. The plane? No VAT, no excise duty on fuel. Sometimes the emissions do fall under the EU ETS, but only if the flight is within Europe. I'd argue this is unfair competition. There have been some voices calling for a tax, also because of the high CO2 emissions not factored in,rijksoverheid however, so far there is no significant taxing in the Netherlands and most of Europe.

The many people flying is also undesirable in terms of CO2 emissions, of course.

The 747 passenger version will get a lot more rare, and eventually disappear. But I'll never forget my memories of the beautiful piece of engineering.


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