Why the 747 Retirement Deserves to Completely Outshine the A380

Credit: Bill Abbott (see below).

Among some aviation fans there is often a debate over which aircraft is superior between the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380. Reports this week suggested the end is near for the Boeing Jumbo – and I saw many slating the public response, labelling it “unfair” and “ridiculous” that the A380s production end, which was announced last year, didn’t bring the same attention.

I take a very different view. For several reasons I’ll outline below, I believe the 747 should be held on a pedestal high above its European counterpart. If production truly is coming to an end for the famed Queen of the Skies, it really will be the end of a glorious era.

My first point is that the 747 sparked affordable, mass air travel. Coming into service in 1970, the dominant aircraft at this time was the Boeing 707. The jumbo was around 1.5 times the size, with more than double the potential seating capacity. These factors significantly reduced the cost per seat and allowed airlines to pass this reduction on to passengers.

In the UK, average long haul fares fell by around 30% in the 10 years after the 747 came into service. Though the Jumbo definitely wasn’t the only factor in this, the economies of scale it offered to airlines made cheaper travel accessible to many more people worldwide.

The 747 can also in a way be said to have helped cause the birth of the hub & spoke model, and hub airports worldwide. Whilst the A380 model has been built around high density routes between major hub airports, this was popularised by the Boeing jet in the 70s and 80s.

Another important factor is the sheer amount of orders the 747 has obtained over its substantially longer period of service. With 1,572 orders since 1970, the Jumbo has achieved an average of 31 orders per year – meanwhile the A380 can be described as somewhat of a disappointment with 251 orders, 19 per year since its introduction in 2007.

Credit: Dean Morley (see below).

These orders can be backed up by the global dominance of the 747 throughout its history. It has been operated by more than 90 carriers across six continents. The Superjumbo on the other hand has seen only 14 carriers and four continents. For me the crucial point here is that, if we exclude Emirates, who count for 49% of the A380s orders, the project would be regarded a complete and utter failure and not even be mentioned in the same sentence as the 747.

My last point is that the 747 throughout its many decades of service has seen a range of different variants. From the original -100 to the modern and sleeker -8. Even if the most recent variant hasn’t been a big success, the Jumbo has managed to develop and improve over the years alongside the industry. Cargo variants have meant that it has revolutionised the passenger and freight markets completely, whereas the A380 has merely had a brief 13 year stint at a handful of major passenger carriers.

I love both of these aircraft and deem both of them to be engineering feats in their own right. The two of them are incredibly well designed aircraft. If the Superjumbo had come around in the seventies, maybe I’d be more inclined to glorify it like the 747. To see both of these planes go is a sad time for the industry – but above all the history and change the Jumbo Jet has brought about over the past 50 years will never be forgotten.

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Images used:

‘The BIG dogs at play… Air France Airbus A380, United Boeing 747, SFO. DSC_10341’ by Bill Abbott. View here. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. View license. Image cropped.

‘TWA Trans World Airlines Boeing 747-100’ by Dean Morley. View here. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0. View license. No changes made.

I'm an avid writer and airport fanatic. I'm currently studying Airline and Airport Management at Bucks New University and hope to work in airport operations in the future.

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