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The Boeing 747-400 was heading towards worldwide retirement pre Covid-19. But thanks to an increase in cargo and freight, we are seeing a resurgence for the so-called Queen of the skies. We investigate the rise, fall and rise-again of the 747-400, and what this means for pilot recruitment.
The B747, known commonly as the jumbo jet, is one of the most recognisable and loved aircrafts ever made, selling 1571 in various versions since 1970. The first version launched was the 747-100, taking its first flight on February 9th, 1969. With a capacity 2.5 times larger than the Boeing 707, the 747 had a big impact on ticket prices, allowing airlines to spread the costs among more passengers, thus lowering the price and opening flying to a wider variety of people.
However, it was not until 1971, when the 747-200 was developed, that the real potential of the aircraft was discovered. The 747-200 launched offering higher-powered engines, improving the range and payload of the 747-100. Crucially, this aircraft introduced the option to be used for cargo, passenger, or mixed-use.
The bestselling variant of the Boeing 747 was the 747-400, with 694 aircraft delivered. It has continued to build on the dual passenger/cargo capabilities success of its predecessors. The 747 has seen service with many of the top airlines globally, with Japan Airline and British Airways being the largest operators.
The 747 was designed to carry large numbers of passengers over a long distance. It did this well, but today other aircrafts can do the same. For a long time, the 747 was the most sold of all widebodies, until March 2018, when it was replaced by the Boeing 777. Twin aircrafts have improved significantly in both power and safety and are now taking over from heavy four engine options like the Boeing 747. The retirement of 747 fleets has been happening now for many years. Improvements in twins and the associated inefficiency and higher cost of operating four engines have led to their gradual demise.
The 747 continues in production with the 747-8. Boeing, however, announced in July that production will end when the final orders are complete. These are now all for freighter versions, with all passenger orders delivered. And it is within the world of cargo and freight that we are seeing a resurgence in the B747-400; driven mostly by the Covid 19 pandemic there has been a huge increase in demand for cargo and therefore the 747-400.
Despite the easing of lockdowns starting in May, e-commerce growth and the strength of manufacturing activity helped air cargo to rapidly recover as the year progressed. In recognition of this, airlines saw the benefits in bringing aircrafts such as the 747 out of retirement and using them for cargo. An example of this is Lufthansa, who were one of the first airlines to use passenger aircraft to carry freight in the cabin. This continued when the airline became one of the first to remove seating in the cabin to increase capacity. With passenger numbers down by 96%, Lufthansa already had more than enough aircraft to cope, so there was no need to spend on new aircrafts.
China Airlines followed along, operating a large fleet of 18 B747-400Fs and three B777Fs . The Taiwanese flag carrier said that it realised it could tap into its strength in the cargo market, and so decided it would “leverage the cargo capacity” on all 18 Boeing 747-400 freighters to “capture market share” and remain profitable amid falling fuel prices, which resulted in nearly 90% of the carrier’s revenue from the three months ended June 30, 2020, coming from cargo.
As the 747-400 experts, AeroProfessional have naturally been the first-choice recruitment agency for these hard-to-find pilots. So much so we have seen a 400% increase in clients who need to recruit for type rated pilots, and we anticipate that this demand will only increase as more airlines focus on cargo opportunities. If you would like to speak to AeroProfessional about sourcing 747-400 pilots for your business then please contact the team here. Alternatively, if you are a Boeing 747-400 pilot looking for a new role then please check our current job listings here or register with us to receive updates by clicking here.
If you are a B747 pilot why not join our B747 Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1900462516792366/ to get our latest updates.