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How Boeing 747 managed to impose its global supremacy, and build up a profitable position for over 50 years?

How Boeing 747 managed to impose its global supremacy and build up a profitable position for over 50 years? By Ahmed Haouaria

13 Fév 2020

When on April 14, 1995, I made my first flight as a Cabin Crew Member on the Boeing 747-200 with my former company Royal Air Maroc, that day I had declared to all my colleagues and members of my family that it was an exceptional day in my career in commercial aviation.

I had already started flying three years ago, but that day was special.

Onboard the plane that all company staff affectionately called the Great Lady; the company had the only aircraft of this type; I felt like small fish in a big pond.

During the 9 hours flight linking from Casablanca to New York, I moved impressed from compartment to compartment, from the upper deck to the main cabin asking all possible questions to my Cabin CrewInstructor and Pilots to feed my passion for more knowledge than I had during my ground training. 

I was also fortunate today to have Engineering representatives of Boeing on the flight whom I also literally bombarded with questions about the aircraft.

A few years later Royal Air Maroc had acquired a second B747- Series 400, this time, even more, beautiful and more modern with the advanced system operating cabin systems.

In the meantime, I was promoted to the Cabin Crew Instructor role which allowed me to fly more and more often on this beautiful plane on long-haul flights. Just pure pleasure.

 Today, I pay tribute to this beautiful bird which 50 years ago took off for the first time.


50 years ago, the "Jumbo Jet" made its first commercial flight

The "Jumbo Jet", of which over 1,500 have been assembled, is undoubtedly one of the most iconic aircraft in civil aviation history. The birth of the Boeing 747 dates back to the "golden sixties", marked by the democratization of air tickets and an increase in the number of passengers.

In 1965 Boeing had just missed out on the opportunity to sign up, a huge contract for the construction of a very large military transport aircraft. But the American aircraft manufacturer used the accumulated experience to design the largest airliner ever assembled: the Boeing 747.

The new aircraft was developed and perfected within a very short time of approximately two and a half years. The four-engine mastodon was in its first version with a capacity two and a half times greater than that of the Boeing 707 which was one of the largest commercial aircraft of the 1960s.

With non-standard measurements: 70 meters in length and a height of almost 20 meters. Some even feared it would be too big to maneuver at airports.

The assembly of the "Jumbo Jet" required the construction of a new factory, in Everett, about fifty kilometers from, Seattle, the strongholds of the American aeronautical industry in the western United States. This plant remains to this day the building with the largest interior volume in the world (more than 13 million cubic meters).

The Boeing 747 was developed from its origins with the idea of ​​also being able to use it for the transport of goods.

The risk has paid off

A project managed to hand in hand with the spirit of initiative and concerted risk-taking, which implied excellent reactivity and the ability to use common sense.

The cost development of the aircraft almost put Boeing in bankruptcy but on September 30, 1968, it was to be marked as a milestone in Boeing history: a first 747 left the assembly lines of the Everett factory. The first flight test took place a few months later, on February 9, 1969, and lasted 75 minutes, with no major problems.

The first commercial flight will, therefore, take place on January 22, 1970. Originally scheduled for January 21, it was postponed for a few hours following the overheating of an engine, which required the use of a replacement device. The first flight, between New York and London, will mark the start of a success story for Boeing, which will assemble hundreds of 747s for years and reach the symbolic bar of 1,000 copies in 1993 and even 1,500 in 2014. The Belgian airline Sabena had several 747s in its fleet.

The "Jumbo Jet" was available in several different versions. In addition, two models have been adapted for NASA to allow the American space agency to transport its space shuttles. And two other "jumbo jets" have notably been fitted out for the needs of the President of the United States: these are the famous "Air Force One".

After years of so many good and faithful services, it was time to bow out

But the existence of the "queen of the skies", another nickname of the 747, comes to an end. Airlines are gradually withdrawing from their passenger transport fleet. They prefer less jet-fueled jets like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or the Airbus A350. 

In 2005 the Boeing 747 was dispossessed by the Airbus A380 of its title of largest civilian passenger aircraft. But the European "superjumbo" will probably not have the same longevity: Airbus has indeed announced the end of its production for 2021, for lack of sufficient orders. In total, some 250 copies of the A380 will have been delivered.

Thanks to storm Ciara, a B747 connecting New York to London completes the flight in less than 5 hours

While a New York-London flight takes an average of 6 hours 15 minutes, passengers on a flight from New York JFK Airport to London Heathrow, on February 8th,2020 have seen their journeys shortened. The Boeing 747 took 4.56 hours to reach the two cities. A record was broken!

It is, therefore, more than an hour in advance that passengers have joined the two cities. The British Airways Boeing 747 took off at 6.30 p.m. local time, its competitor, the Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350, at 11.28 p.m. local time, and these two airliners took 4.56 hours and 4.57 hours respectively to reach the British capital. It was the American manufacturer who won this incredible unexpected race.

Storm Ciara generated strong air currents aloft over the Atlantic Ocean. Roughly horizontal, they can exceed 360 kilometers per hour which help planes in the direction of crossing the Atlantic.

The previous record dates from January 2018. A Boeing 787 departing from John Fitzgerald Kennedy Airport in New York, with 283 passengers on board, had broken the Atlantic crossing record for this type of airliner in 5 hours and 13 minutes. It was therefore dethroned twice, on Saturday, February 8, 2020.

The transatlantic record for a commercial aircraft remains the prerogative of a British Airways Concorde, on February 7, 1996, in only 2h52 minutes and 59 seconds, after having reached a maximum speed of 2 172 km / h.

A380: the paradox of an aeronautical flagship and a commercial failure, which dethroned the Boeing 747

The A380 has shaped Airbus as much as it has exhausted it financially: acclaimed by passengers, this industrial flagship has raised the European aircraft manufacturer to the rank of a major rival of Boeing on large aircraft, but it will mark the history of the aviation by a major commercial failure. Airbus announced on February 14, 2019, the end of production of the A380, which entered service in 2007 and whose deliveries will stop in 2021.

In the arena of excessive commercial aviation competition, the A380 was a strategic masterpiece that placed Airbus on an equal footing with Boeing, by knocking Boeing 747off the top of the leaderboard of aircraft manufacturers. With this plane, Airbus has become a global aeronautical giant.

It is the largest civil aircraft ever built, the flagship of aeronautics, hailed at its beginnings as a real prodigy, a real technological achievement and, for customer service, a luxurious flying palace. For pilots and cabin crew, it is just a great joy to work on such a plane.

But the end of the A380 marked the Airbus huge risky position which did not see the turning point of long-haul mid-range twin-engine aircraft like the Boeing 787, to which it then replied with its A350. These new-generation aircraft have revolutionized air transport by offering passengers to travel directly from one point to another on the globe without going through the large "hubs" served by very large aircraft. In the 1990s, when the A320 medium-haul aircraft knew a real commercial success, Airbus sought to be present in all market segments, to conquer the world. The company then designed A380: a very large capacity aircraft, which would outperform Boeing's 747 "Jumbo Jet" in every respect.

The European aircraft manufacturer estimated at its launch the market for aircraft with more than 500 seats at 1,300 aircraft over twenty years, hoping to capture 50% of the shares. The truth is that Boeing and Airbus will suffer from their over-optimism: air transport holds the expected growth but the market is tilting partly towards point to point. The A380 will never experience the success hoped for by Airbus: the order book stood at 313 orders, and after the cancellation of cumulative orders from Emirates, 20 firm aircraft and 16 options but also from Hong Kong Airlines (10 planes) and from Qantas (8 planes) this number fell to 274 aircraft ordered. Airbus CEO Tom Enders has acknowledged what he sees as a mistake. ‘’In 2000, when the decision to launch the A380 was made, we didn't know what the market would look like ten years later. It was a risky decision, "he said.

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