The Queen of the Skies is perhaps the most recognizable aircraft to have ever flown commercially. First introduced in January 1970, with Pan American Airways, it has gone through 5 variants and flown thousands and thousands of miles throughout the years.
When it was first introduced, it had the advantage of being a Quad jet, meaning that it could fly longer flights over the Atlantic, something that the twin-engine airliners at the time couldn’t do, due to the ETOPS certification requirements that the FAA had.
The plane brought forward an age of flight, of connectivity: it bridged the western civilizations. It made flying a more pleasant and affordable experience. It truly revolutionized the experience in the skies as a whole.
Sadly, as times go by, most of the original models have been retired but some still fly in the skies. As of January of this year, there were still 533 operating aircraft - With the 747-400 being the most common among these. But let’s take a closer look at these aircraft, if we do take into consideration the models, 309 of these aircraft are direct freighter models, with the majority being -400 freighters. Of the remaining 224 aircraft, 43 are of the -8 variants, but what about the rest?
Well, 181 remain, and a good share of these have already been converted to freighters, are in storage, or flying for ageing airlines. The few -400s we still see flying with major carriers already have a deadline on their lifespan, with British Airways, the biggest operator of the type, already having stated its intents on replacing the type with the A350-1000s.
The 747-8 was introduced as a replacement for the 747-400 and a competitor to the Airbus A380. However, it accumulated very little orders, with just over 40 -8s still flying. These aircraft are likely to still be flying for quite some time, even after the retirement of the A380s, but it's a likely scenario that cargo carriers will seek out to purchase these second hand planes and convert them.
To sum this up nicely, although the aircraft is slowly being faded, due to its success in the freighter market it's very likely we still see these planes in the skies for a few more years. I do believe that although the end of her Reign is near, the Queen might still surpass its airbus counterpart, the King of the skies (A380).
For more information on this history of the Boeing 747, check out our article published on the aircraft's 50th anniversary!