The sole manufacturer of fuselage sections for Boeing’s 747 program, Triumph Group, has begun parting out its California factory and yesterday began auctioning off equipment. The company has built 747 fuselages for Boeing since the aircraft was launched in 1966.
Boeing currently only has eighteen 747s left on firm order. All of them are -8Fs, consisting of fourteen for UPS and four for Volga-Dnepr UK. The next one for UPS (65787) has already been completed and has been seen in full UPS colors. Structural components to satisfy Boeing’s existing order backlog have already been manufactured, according to Bloomberg, and at the current production rate of 0.5 units per month, the last 747-8F currently on order will roll off the assembly line by year-end 2022.
Another factory in Texas which produces tail sections, floor beams and other parts is also due to be closed in the next year or so, reports Bloomberg. It is unclear whether Boeing intends to take over production should any new orders arise or outsource it to another manufacturer. Boeing also declined to say whether this signals a formal end to the 747 program altogether.
Frederic Horst, managing director of Cargo Facts Consulting, said that an end to the production of the 747 is “a worry” for the outsized cargo business. “While we have factored an end to the production of the 747-8F into our 20-year freighter forecast, there is no aircraft that offers the same capabilities,” he said. “Over the next 20 years the nose door equipped fleet will decline from about 240 aircraft today to just over 130.
Is a resurgence of interest in the 747-8 likely? For the passenger variant, the answer is almost certainly “no.” While the era of four-engine passenger jets is effectively over – the 777-300ER and A350 have replaced most 747-400s, and with service entry of the 777X on the horizon, Boeing is not likely to see more orders for the 747-8I.
However, a viable case can still be made for the freighter variant. Should a sizable order for the -8F materialize, Boeing could likely reconfigure the supply chain to continue production. For now, the aerospace giant maintains that it has no concrete plans to cease production of the iconic bird. It’s also worth noting the important role the 747 plays in the Civil Reserve Aircraft Fleet (CRAF). As the fleet begins to shrink through retirements, so will Defense transportation capabilities.
In a somewhat bittersweet turn of events, 2019 would mark the 50th anniversary of the 747’s first ever flight as well as the possible end of the program. Leaving aside the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the Queen of the Skies though, we note that production would end beyond that. It’s also absolutely clear that we will continue to see 747Fs in the skies well into the future, especially since there is yet to be a clear replacement for the type.
Join us Feb. 3-5 for Cargo Facts EMEA 2020, the event serving as an international platform providing attendees with a direct connection to leading EMEA innovation executives. Save up to $200 when you register before Dec. 13. To register and for more information about the event, visit www.cargofactsemea.com.