“As deeply connected as we all are to this iconic aircraft, the time has come to retire our 747 fleet from scheduled service,” United Airlines president Scott Kirby said in a Wednesday memo to workers. “It’s a bittersweet milestone — this jumbo jet with its unmistakable silhouette once represented the state-of-the-art in air travel.”
“Today, there are more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable wide-body aircraft that provide an updated inflight experience for our customers traveling on long-haul flights,” Kirby added. “For these reasons, we’re saying farewell to the Queen of the Skies, which has been part of our fleet since we first flew the aircraft between California and Hawaii in 1970.”
United made no mention of it in its memo, but its plans to accelerate the retirement of its 747s comes the same day the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to issue an airworthiness directive calling for potentially expensive fixes to older models of the jets – including the type flown by United.
United’s last 747 flight will now come in the fourth quarter of this year, according to the memo.
“We’ll be working with all of you who fly or work on the 747s to ensure a smooth transition to other fleets,” Kirby said. “Our forward-looking fleet plan will cover 747 replacements and anticipated growth opportunities.”
He also promised workers that the company will give the 747 an appropriate send-off.
“(O)f course, we’ll honor the 747 with an unforgettable retirement celebration,” Kirby wrote in the memo, adding “we’ll keep you posted with more details on her final flight in the months ahead.”
United is shifting its 747 flying to newer wide-body jets, including the Boeing 777-300ER models that the company has just begun taking delivery of.
The 747s in United's fleet – all 747-400 variants of the jet – seat 374 passengers. The new 777-300ERs will seat 366.
United also has a number of other new wide-ody planes coming into its fleet, including Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliner models that seat 219 and 252 passengers, respectively. Many of those planes are already flying for the carrier. And, in 2018, United will begin taking delivery of new Airbus A350 wide-body jets.
United's acceleration of its 747 retirement also makes it seem likely that no U.S. airline will be flying the iconic jet by the year's end.
Delta Air Lines is the only other U.S. carrier that currently uses 747s for passenger service. Like United, Delta also has begun to phase out its models of the jet. The carrier is on record as saying it expects to retire its last 747 by the end of this year.
Delta will use several models to replace its 747s. They include new Airbus A330s that already are being delivered to the carrier as well as new Airbus A350s that Delta expects to begin receiving next year.
Delta’s 747s accommodate 376 passengers.
(Ben Mutzabaugh -Today In The Sky / USA Today)