Over the next few days the world of aviation will meet in Singapore at the Changi exhibition center adjacent to the city’s international airport. For decades the airport has been dominated by the Boeing 747. It has been the intermediate stop for the kangaroo route and Singapore Airlines once was one of its most prominent operators.
With Jack Wadell and Brian Wygle at the controls, the aircraft took off for its first flight from Everett on Feb. 9, 1969, exactly 45 years ago today.
Back then, a new era in commercial air transport started. Never before was a civil aircraft built that came even close to its size. It revolutionized air travel because of its superior economics and size, although it needed many years to gain traction in the latter half of the 1970s and 80s onwards.
Today, overlooking the apron at Changi airport, one realizes that the 747 era is over. Singapore Airlines has long replaced the aircraft with Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s. All Nippon Airways, formerly one of the most important 747 operators, just retired its last domestic version and many other airlines have pulled the jumbo from revenue service, too. Its economics do not work any more and the latest version, the 747-8, has failed to gain traction in the market.
But imagine arriving at the 2020 Singapore Airshow, shortly after the 50th anniversary of the first flight: how many of the 1,482 747s that have been delivered since 1970 will still be in service? The 747-8F will certainly be around, but will Boeing continue to build the passenger version? Around 2020, the 777X will be about to be delivered. It will only be a little bit smaller and much cheaper to operate and maybe Airbus will have come up with another aircraft in that size category to counter it.
In only six more years, the 747 will be an even less familiar sight.