Opinion: Why the jumbo jet isn't dead yet

The iconic jumbo, we now how two of them roaming the skies but the most iconic is, of course, the Boeing 747. Embarking on its first flight before man first walked on the moon it truly is an aviation masterpiece. Almost 40 years after the 747’s first flight we got the A380, the “superjumbo”, with a capacity of 853 people on two full-length decks it certainly was a sight to behold when she came out of the hangers. But these marvels are disappearing from the skies at a rapid rate, being replaced with more economical, twin-engine jets. But is this the end of the jumbo or just the start?

Well, firstly we need to look at why they are disappearing. More modern, fuel-efficient jets such as the B787 Dreamliner or the A350 are taking over. Currently, the 787 has been produced 945 times with another 500 or so orders in the books. Compare this to the A380, it has only been produced 242 times with a lazy 9 more orders on the books. The thing about these modern jets is their efficiency, they can transport hundreds of people for cheaper than ever before on long routes whilst providing the best cabin pressurisation in the sky. Sure the A380 can operate on long routes but nowhere near as long as the B787 or A350. Another thing is their flexibility, 787’s can be used on shorter runways, A380’s require long runways at best. But why is their still a market for these types of planes?

The 787 was designed for long and skinny routes, routes with medium demand and reasonably long distance, for example, Tel Aviv to Boston or Tokyo to Helsinki. The aircraft was not designed for the hub to hub routes like London to New York or Los Angeles to Tokyo. This is where the jumbos work and where problems arise with the smaller jets. 2005, when the A380 embarked on her first flight was when global air passenger numbers were at just below 2 billion, since then they have exploded and in 2019 they reached a new high of 4.2 billion. This is the problem, jets are getting smaller, passenger numbers are getting bigger and most importantly most airports aren’t getting any bigger. Slots are the main concern, Heathrow is at 98% capacity, it can only accommodate a few more dozen jets per day and aircraft like the 787 are half the size of the A380, meaning if they replaced all the A380’s today Heathrow would be over capacity by a long shot. Another issue is airport space, sure A380’s take up a big space but less than two 787’s parked side by side, even fuel efficiency is the same if not better then the 787 if carrying a full load. But what does the future hold?

The future for jumbos in the short term looks dark and gloomy but if technology continues in the way it’s going then I see no reason why we won’t see more jumbos in the future. For example, when General Electric was trying out their new GE90’s they attached two of them to a 747, there is absolutely no reason why in the future we couldn’t have fuel-efficient high capacity jumbo jets reaching for the skies once again.


The sun may not set on the jumbo full image credit

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Great post once again!

Norwegian Air, American Airlines, Japan Airlines, United Airlines:

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Agreed, especially the new GEnX engines on the 747-8 show a brighter future for jumbos.

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GE9X on the 748?

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GEnX, my bad

very informational! great post. The 747 is an iconic bird, as much as I hope it will stay for a long time to come, airlines just want more flexibility and fuel efficiency. Very nice post!

The sun most definitely won’t set on the jumbo for the basic reason that it can lug huge amounts of freight…something no other aircraft can really beat it at (777F has come close). Operators that ship huge pieces of machinery need that cargo door, and I sure as hell know the there are way more 747 freighters than AN124’s. The 747-8F is a true heavyweight, and as long as freight demand is there, the 747 will be there.

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