Scott Kirby, the President of United Airlines, has revealed that they will be retiring all of the United Airlines Boeing 747 aircraft currently in service by the end of 2017. The airline began using the iconic aircraft as part of their West Coast – Hawaii routes in 1970, and throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, United had 18 747s in circulation through the US, giving them the largest fleet of domestic 747s.
In a written statement, Kirby said that “There’s something very special about a Boeing 747. It’s the one aircraft that even casual travelers can easily identify. And we know that the experience of traveling on one, or flying one, is unforgettable. As deeply connected as we all are to this iconic aircraft, the time has come to retire our 747 fleet from scheduled service.” He noted that the airline had previously announced in March last year that they were planning the complete the retirement of their 747s by the end of 2018, but had moved up the timetable, and that the airline would operate their last 747 flight in the fourth quarter of 2017.
He called the milestone “bittersweet,” saying that the 747’s “unmistakable silhouette once represented the state-of-the-art in air travel,” but that with more fuel-efficient and cost-effective wide body aircraft available to the airline today, the time has come to phase out the 747.
Kirby said that the airline would be working with all the pilots and flight crew that flew as part of the 747 fleet to ensure that they were able to transition smoothly to other fleets. As a final note, Kirby added that the airline would be honoring the 747 with “an unforgettable retirement celebration,” and that more details would be revealed as the final 747 flight drew closer.
After Kirby’s statement announcement the accelerated plans for the retirement of the airline’s 747 fleet, United Captain Jon Russell, who began flying the 747 as a first officer in the early 1990s, shared some memories of the aircraft.
“I remember waiting in the jetway while the plane was being brought over from the hangar, and it was an incredible experience – I could hear it approaching from the noise of the engines. Then the nose of the plane came into view, and in short order, the fuselage enveloped the entire opening to the jetway. At that moment, I realized the enormity of the aircraft; it was pretty dramatic.”
Russell added that the aircraft was iconic, likely the most recognizable airplane in the sky, and that “Being in one was such a neat experience because of that upper deck – it was almost like an airplane in an airplane.” And despite logging some serious miles with the aircraft, Russell says that his favorite memory was from a short trip flying with his father, who was also a United pilot, from San Francisco to central Washington. “He took one up to Moses Lake with some of United’s instructors, and I sat in the jumpseat while he made three ‘roller landings.’ It was so cool because you had these big commercial airplanes doing pattern work all around you, not to mention the fact that I was there with my dad.”
As a final thought, Russell added that the 747 has been an iconic site around the airline for a long time, and that “We’ll probably never see another four-engine aircraft on the property; it’s the last of something special.”
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