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Boeing confirms it will finish building 747s in 2022, when last freighter flies off the production line

Commercial business slumps but troubled 737 MAX could be back in the skies late this year

Boeing has announced it will stop making 747s, probably in the year 2022.

The aerospace company today posted $16.9bn of revenue for Q2, down 26 percent year on year thanks to a certain virus and the ongoing 737MAX mess. Commercial airplane shipments fell to 50, down from the 149 that flew away in 2019’s corresponding quarter.

On the company’s earnings call president and CEO David Calhoun said Boeing expects to produce commercial craft at a slower rate for years to come. 737s are being made in very low numbers but Boeing said it has budgeted for the troubled 737 MAX to be certified to resume flying in Q4 2020, so some of the backlog of planes it has already built will ship then. By late 2022 31 737s a month should again be flying out of factories. 787 production has been slowed to six a month, down from a planned ten. The debut of the forthcoming 777X has been delayed until the year 2022 but the current 777 is still rolling off the production line at the rate of about 2.5 planes a month. But Boeing will slow that to two a month in 2021, down by one from previous plans.

After discussing all of the abovementioned models, Calhoun turned his attention to the 747, and delivered the following news.

“On the 747, we will continue building 747s at the current rate as we deliver on our commitments to key customers. In light of the current market dynamics and the outlook, we anticipate completing production of the iconic 747 in 2022.”

Yep, you read that right: the last 747 will be built in 2022.

The last of its type will almost certainly be a freighter, because Boeing has had no orders for the passenger version of the 747-8 for years and has already delivered the two 747-8-based airframes that will become the next Air Force One.

Boeing’s order data says that as of June 30th 2020 the company had contracts to build another dozen 747s and is producing them at the rate of one every two months. The math isn’t hard: if Boeing gets them all built on time that 2022 end-of-build date would be comfortably met.

Which would be sad because the economies of scale the 747 offered made international travel accessible to many around the world. However the end of the line was not unexpected because the four-engine 747 is considerably more expensive to operate than more modern twin-engine models like the 777 and A350 that can match it for range and capacity. Airlines generally find that they can only fly passengers profitably in a 747 when the plane is just-about full, and with the COVID-19 pandemic suppressing demand for the kind of long-haul routes the 747 serves there’s little chance they’ll fly full for the foreseeable future. Hence the decision the likes of British Airways and QANTAS to immediately retire their fleets.

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The demise of the 747 even in freighter format also signals that there’s little demand for one thing the 747 freighter can do that rivals can’t – carry large cargo thanks to its use of a nose door. Clearly freight carriers think the world’s current fleet of 747 freighters and Antonovs can meet demand for that kind of gig for the foreseeable future.

Boeing CEO Calhoun noted that plenty of 747s will fly for the foreseeable future and the company therefore still has plenty of 747-related work ahead of it. Indeed, the remaining freight feet is likely to be very busy as the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly increased demand for air freight. ®

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