It wasn’t long ago that the Boeing 747 was a mainstay of commercial airlines, easily spotted at most major international airports around the world. Fast forward to September 2020, and the Boeing 747 is operating just a small handful of scheduled passenger flights for only four airlines.
Boeing 747s will fly on only 17 worldwide routes this month. Many of these flights are only running once per week, or being operated by 747s on only a limited selection of dates.
Around half of these routes are with Lufthansa, which has grounded its Airbus A380s and much of the rest of its long-haul flight due to the global air travel slump caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But of 11 of Lufthansa’s 27 Boeing 747s remain in active service; comprised of 10 Boeing 747-8s and a single Boeing 747-400.
The other three airlines that continue to operate a very limited number of Boeing 747 flights in September 2020 are Air China, Asiana Airlines and Rossiya Airlines. According to Routes Online, Air China continues to use 747s on a limited range of domestic flights as well as the Beijing-Madrid route. Meanwhile, Asiana is running Boeing 747-400s on its weekly Seoul-Nanjing and Seoul-Changchun flights.
Many international flights to and from China are currently running only once or twice per week due to Chinese government restrictions.
This map shows all of the Boeing 747 passenger routes operating worldwide during September 2020:
Until recently, many trans-Atlantic flights with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and KLM were operated by Boeing 747s. Qantas also used to use Boeing 747s for some of its international flights, including from Sydney to Johannesburg, Santiago and Tokyo. But with severely reduced demand for international travel – and in the case of Qantas, no international flights operating at all right now – many airlines have recently retired their entire Boeing 747 fleets early.
The iconic Boeing 747 is a fantastic aircraft. But it’s also a very large aircraft, and relatively expensive to operate compared to more modern and fuel-efficient planes such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. The number of seats that airlines need to fill on a Boeing 747 to break even is simply too high for the current low levels of demand.
Boeing is ending Boeing 747 production
In July, Boeing quietly pulled the plug on its Boeing 747 program. The final orders for its Boeing 747-8 are now in, and the last plane will roll out of its Seattle factory in around two years. No more 747s will be produced after that – a decision that mirrors the recent closure of the Airbus A380 program.
The good news is that the Boeing 747 is not quite dead yet. There is a relatively robust cargo market for the freighter version of the 747-8, which continues to fly. And even as airlines phase out their older Boeing 747-400s, there are still three airlines with relatively young 747-8 passenger fleets – Lufthansa, Air China and Korean Air. These airlines will continue to fly these aircraft in the years ahead, once demand for air travel picks up again.