Qantas Boeing 747 jumbo jets to retire by 2021 as it orders more 787 Dreamliners

Qantas to retire its 747 jumbo jets

An era in aviation will come to an end, as Qantas retires its fleet Boeing 747 aircraft and replaces them with smaller 787 Dreamliners.

The end of an era is approaching after Qantas announced a date to retire the last of its Boeing 747 jumbo jets.

Qantas will retire the last of its six 747-400s by the end of 2020 as it increases its fleet of 787 Dreamliners to 14 the same year.

The jumbo jet has been in the Qantas fleet in various forms since 1971. The hump-backed jet was the largest commercial aircraft to fly until the launch of the Airbus A380 in October 2007.

Boeing rolled out the first 747 on September 30, 1968, with the first commercial flight on January 21, 1970, going from New York to London on Pan American World Airways.

The giant aircraft ushered in a new era of long-haul travel, flying further and faster than most of its predecessors. It also brought new levels of luxury to the sky, with premium passengers enjoying a bar and lounge on the upper deck with some carriers.

"This really is the end of one era and the start of another," said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. "The jumbo has been the backbone of Qantas International for more than 40 years and we've flown almost every type that Boeing built.

"Over the years, each new version of the 747 allowed Qantas to fly further and improve what we offered passengers. The Dreamliners are now doing the same thing. The 787 has better economics and a longer range, and it has already opened up new routes like Perth to London. With a larger fleet of Dreamliners, we'll be looking at destinations in the Americas, Asia, South Africa and Europe."

See also: Qantas Dreamliner seat review: Economy, premium and business

Joyce has flagged ultra-long-haul flights as part of the airline's "Project Sunrise" – a plane to fly non-stop from the eastern capitals to London, New York and more. The airline recently started flying between Perth and London non-stop, the first time Australia and Europe have been connected by a non-stop flight.

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The airline currently has four 787-9 Dreamliners in its fleet, but a new aircraft will be required to achieve the distances Project Sunrise aims for. Joyce has thrown down the gauntlet to both major manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, to come up with a plane that can go the distance.

Airbus' new A350-XWB ULR (for "Ultra Long Range") recently took off for the first time. It is the longest-range commercial airliner to date. Singapore Airlines will take delivery of the aircraft this year.

See also: 20 hours non-stop: World's longest range airliner takes off

The two largest commercial airliners, the 747 and the A380, have fallen out of favour with airlines in recent years. The most recent version of the 747, the 747-8, struggled to attract customers, while Airbus came close to ending production of its flagship superjumbo recently until another large order from Emirates. Instead, airlines are opting for new, fuel-efficient planes like the Dreamliner and the A350.

Singapore Airlines was one of the first carriers to phase out 747s, in 2012. Last year, both Delta and United Airlines in the US made their final flights with 747s. 

Despite waning popularity as a passenger aircraft, the 747 remains a popular choice as a cargo plane, so it's likely to still be sighted at airports for some time to come.

See also: America's last jumbo jet makes its final flight

See also: Airline review: Qantas Perth to London non-stop

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