The End Of The Boeing 747? Company Cuts Production, Sales Down

By Ben Wolford on October 25, 2013 12:42 PM EDT

Boeing has cut production of its 747 as sales slump.
Boeing has cut production of its 747 as sales slump.

Boeing says it will keep its gas-guzzler 747 "in production for a long time." But the company's recent slow-down in production and slumping demand suggests the plane's glory days are over.

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Chicago-based Boeing announced this month it was scaling back production of the double-decker jetliner because there were fewer orders. Instead of 1.75 new planes per month, 1.5 will roll off the assembly line beginning early next year.

"Although we are making a small adjustment to our production rate, it doesn't change our confidence in the 747-8 or our commitment to the program," said Eric Lindblad, vice president and general manager of the 747 Program in a statement.

But airlines are continuing to show they're sick of paying for all the jet fuel needed to power the 747's four engines. According to the company's earnings report released this week, it delivered 16 of them in the first nine months of this year, compared to 21 during the same period last year. Meanwhile, sales of twin engine planes, the 737, 777 and 787 Dreamliner, all climbed. Compared to planes of its size, the Dreamliner consumes 20 percent less fuel.

A recent study published in Faraday Discussions found that emissions from commercial aircraft contributed to about 6 percent of Arctic surface global warming. Worse, the carbon from plane emissions is raising the number of climate-change-related deaths by about 620 per year.

Another bleak study published in Transportation Research this year concluded that technological gains in jetliner fuel efficiency will not be able to offset enough CO2 emissions to keep up with growth in air travel.

It's no wonder more airlines are putting heavy stock in fuel efficiency, promising to cut back on CO2 output and offering flyers a chance to offset their emissions. United Airlines, for example, has pledged a 1.5 percent average annual improvement in fuel efficiency. To that end, it's upping its orders for twin engine airplanes, some of which lug around half the fuel of the 747.

Of Boeing's cut back, Howard Rubel, a New York-based aerospace analyst with Jefferies Inc., told Bloomberg, "It's not a surprise, in fact it's smart. It tightens up the market, doesn't put airplanes out there that can't be sold."

The White House, however, still likes the cozy spaciousness of the six-story 747. The current pair of Air Force Ones are nearing 30 years old, and the president will soon need a replacement, USA Today reports. The U.S. Air Force is looking to buy a new 747.

According to Boeing, "The 747-8 family provides airlines with double-digit improvements in fuel efficiency, operating costs and emissions, while being 30 percent quieter and adding more capacity." In the long run, the company says, global demand for planes like the 747 isn't going away.

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