On Saturday, Cathay Pacific was the latest carrier to bid farewell to the iconic Boeing 747, with Flight CX543, from Tokyo to Hong Kong, being its last passenger revenue flight.
Staff lined up alongside B-HUJ as it prepared for departure, marking the end of an era that began on August 4 1976 when Cathay’s first 747, 747-200 VR-HKG, took to the skies for the first time in passenger service.
Cathay general manager for operations and former 747 chief pilot Mark Hoey, an Australian, says the impact of the 747 on the city of Hong Kong was immense.
“The 747 fundamentally changed the way people were able to travel,” Hoey said in a statement.
“Being able to carry more people for far greater distances than before meant the 747 effectively shrunk the planet. The aircraft had a vital effect on the development of Hong Kong as an international aviation hub – and indeed, Hong Kong’s economic and tourism prospects. As a result, it helped make Hong Kong become a world city.”
Hoey, who flew three variants of the 747 – the -200, -300 and -400 – said it was a great aircraft to fly and generated great excitement for pilots given the long-haul routes it opened up.
“For such a large aircraft, the 747 is amazingly manoeuvrable,” Hoey said.
“It’s also very reliable and robust – which was very helpful during typhoon season in the old days of Kai Tak. It could do things that other aircraft couldn’t. It really is an outstanding piece of design and engineering.”
“The launch of new long-haul routes, thanks to the 747, was exciting, and Cathay made a name for itself by operating some of the longest flights of the era, like Gatwick [London] to Hong Kong nonstop for the first time by any airline, and later to the east coast of the United States.”
While 747 passenger services have ended, Cathay’s 20 Boeing 747 freighters (comprising one 747-400BCF, six 747-400ERFs and 13 747-8Fs) will continue to support global commerce by ferrying goods around the world for years to come.
Despite all of the 747’s ground-breaking achievements, not just for Cathay but airlines around the world, advances in aircraft and engine technology mean newer twin-engine jets can fly just as far and carry just as many passengers and cargo using less fuel.
In recent years, Singapore Airlines (April 2012), Air New Zealand (September 2014) and Air France (January 2016) are just three examples of carriers that have sent their 747 passenger variants into retirement.
And there are more to come, with Saudia set to end 747 passenger services before the end of 2016, while United has said previously it planned to accelerate the retirement of its 747s.
Closer to home, Qantas is expected to remain operating 747s for the foreseeable future. The Flying Kangaroo has 11 747s, a combination of six -400ERs and five -400s.
Although the Australian flag carrier has ordered new-generation 787s as a partial replacement for the “Queen of the Skies”, the 747s are still important for long over-water services to Johannesburg and Santiago.