Written By: Royal S. King
EVERETT – This past Friday, July 7th, the 1539th Boeing 747 built, a 747-8 Intercontinental, returned to Paine Field, having been painted at Portland International Airport. Wearing the blue and gray colors of delivery customer Korean Air, there was no fanfare, just a handful of diehard AvGeeks witnessing what could be the last of its kind, a 4-engined Boeing passenger plane.
With the exception of the future Air Force One, there are currently no 747-8i on the order books for Boeing. With a couple of Not Taken Up (NTU) white tails currently stored, frames originally scheduled for Transaero, who went bankrupt in 2015, and the longer, wider 777X currently scheduled for service entry in 2019, this could be the end of the line for the passenger carrying 747.
Announced in 2004 as the 747 Advanced, and confirmed in 2005 as the 747-8, the 747-8i is currently in service with launch customers Lufthansa, Air China, and Korean Air. Along with the Airbus A380, the 747-8i are the only four-engine commercial transports in production. What was once de rigueur is going the way of the dinosaur.
HL7644 (C/N 60411 L/N 1539) will be the 10th, and final, 747-8i delivered to Korean Air, completing an order originally placed in 2013. With the first -8i delivered to Korean on August 28, 2015 – and a scheduled delivery date of July 31, 2017, for their last Intercontinental, it will have taken just three years to fulfill Korean’s two orders of five frames each.
“Queen of the Skies,” Boeing 747- rolling out of the Boeing paint facility at PDX & ready for delivery to Korean Airlines. pic.twitter.com/oH2jD9ib9E
— flypdx (@flypdx) July 10, 2017
Two more photos of the passenger version of “The Last Queen,” leaving PDX. Photo credits from one of our own, Tim Smith, Ops Specialist! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/9ztC1mKMuh
— flypdx (@flypdx) July 10, 2017
Korean Air has a long history with the 747; in 1973, Korean became the first Pacific operator to fly the 747 freighter. The 1980’s brought 747 passenger service, first with the -200 and then the 747SP. Next came the 747-300 and the -400, solidifying Korean Air’s reputation as one of the world’s premier airlines, and the 747’s as the long-haul plane of choice.
Korean is the only airline to currently fly both the freighter and passenger versions of the 747-8, as well as freighter and passenger versions of the 747-400. Along with 10 Airbus A380 in service, 4-engine aircraft remain an important part of the Korean long-haul fleet.
While the prospect of new orders for the 747-8i looks dim, the type will be in-service for many years to come. With the 10 frames operated by Korean, plus 19 flying for Lufthansa and 7 flying for Air China the 747-8i numbers, while small, will be available for public travel for some time.
The lack of orders for the four-engine 747-8i matches the current fate of the A380, with no new orders since 2015, and an ever shrinking order book, we are just a few years away from no new passenger 4-holers.
While the passenger market continues to shrink, the 747-8 will continue to be built as a cargo-hauler. Boeing will also be keen to keep the line open as a clear path to eventually building a new Air Force One, perhaps the ultimate passenger 747.
Will we see some last minute deals to sell some 747-8i at a heavily discounted price, like we saw with the 767? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And the aviation world will be a sadder place because of it.