Boeing 747: end of an era

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Characteristic design

Production of the 777 and 787 is reduced

737 Max should fly again soon

Digital signpost through traffic

The then president’s wife Patricia Nixon at the christening of a Boeing 747 on January 15, 1970. Photo: White House Photo Office.

The American company has discontinued production of the classic aircraft in 2022

This week, Boeing CEO David Calhoun announced that his company is phasing out 747 production. The last jumbo jet should roll out of the halls in 2022. The accounting specialist cited the corona pandemic as “reasons that continue to have a serious impact on aviation” as reasons for this. This contributed to the group’s loss of $ 2.4 billion in the second quarter of 2020.

Compared to the short-lived competitor Airbus A380, which was only manufactured for 14 years (cf. Airbus does not want to repay A380 government loans), the Boeing 747 had a long life anyway: it made its maiden flight in the Mad menEra, on February 9, 1969. Since then, 1,418 jumbo jets have been delivered – including several Air Force One machines for American presidents.

According to Boeing, the old 747 will continue to be serviced by the manufacturer. However, several major airlines have shut it down in the past – including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, the Dutch KLM and the Australian Qantas. Others continue to use it – especially as a freight machine. This version was ordered six times last year.

Like many machines built in the 1960s, the 747 has a very distinctive design: its upper deck hump made it differ from other aircraft just as well as a Mercedes / 8 from other automobiles. At 9,700 kilometers, it also covered significantly longer distances than all other passenger aircraft of the time. And with 560, it could accommodate twice as many passengers as the largest Boeing 707 before it. The chief engineer who did this feat was the Slovenian Joseph Sutterwho died of pneumonia in 2016 at the age of 95.

At a time, when flying was more of a luxury and a pleasure, as a torture (cf. after United scandal: US politics deals with overcrowding as a business model), the big plane was worthwhile for both airlines and passengers: the tickets became cheaper and business people and tourists still had the time switch to large turntables and yourself prepare for connecting flights with a few drinks in hotels. A few decades later, tight margins, drier working conditions and then unimaginable security and control measures led to many passengers preferring to use direct connections and smaller machines that fly more often.

Another reason why the 747 was gradually bought less was due to technical innovations such as the twin-engine Boeing 777 and 787, which no longer required four turbines, and covered longer distances with less fuel. Boeing does not intend to discontinue production, but will reduce it: From 2021, six planes will be produced per month from the 787, the “Dreamliner”, two of the 777. The premiere of the new 777X was postponed to 2022.

The 737 Max, on the other hand, should start up again soon. Operation of this aircraft has been suspended worldwide since last year a flight ban was imposed after a total of 346 people died in two crashes. In the search for the causes, e-mails were sent to the public in which a Boeing employee diagnosed a “systemic” problem in 2018: “A management team that knows very little about business”, but sets targets that cannot be met ( see “Designed by clowns”, “supervised by monkeys”).

The sale of aircraft for civil aviation is not the only business that Boeing makes money with: In 2018, almost a third of the company’s profit came from defense and space contracts. This makes the U.S. government the largest single customer of the group – and Boeing is the second largest US Department of Defense contractor after Lockheed Martin, accounting for around a fifth of the total order volume. For the Apache helicopters and the other productsthat Boeing delivers here, there is currently no problem comparable to the 737 Max disaster.

There were difficulties with the mainstay of space travel – but not that big: The Boeing Starliner, which is supposed to bring astronauts to the ISS in the future, used too much fuel in a test (allegedly because of an incorrectly set clock) and had to return to Earth in December, without first docking with the International Space Station. Both Boeing and the US space agency NASA subsequently emphasized that the test was not useless, but had brought a lot of valuable data for further tests.
(Peter Mühlbauer)

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