Boeing is going to kill its most iconic plane. Not right this second, but in the coming decades. In a , the company has decided not to set aside a place for the world's jumbo jets.
Boeing has completely dropped the category of large, four-engine planes like its 747 and the competing Airbus A380 in its predictions, estimating that this type of plane will soon become obsolete. And while of course any plane will become obsolete in time, Boeing sees no future for this breed of aircraft in general.
It's not a surprise. This has company's direction for the past few decades. Boeing has been focusing on smaller, long-range aircraft like its 787 Dreamliner, the 737-MAX, and the upcoming 777X to better support what it sees as the future of the aircraft industry. The downscaling of 747 production has already begun.
Boeing is betting on a revolution in the way air travel works. Traditionally, airlines follow a "hub and spoke" model, where passengers fly from small regional airports to large central airports and then to their destination. Boeing envisions a different model where passengers fly on small, long-distance airplanes directly from their regional airports.
This model was impractical for decades because the only long-range aircraft were jumbo jet passenger planes like the 747 and A380. But Boeing's new generation of planes are smaller and much more fuel efficient, allowing for longer and less populated routes.
Judging by the sales figures, Boeing might be right. Sales of the 787 have sharply risen in recent years, while Airbus has struggled to sell a single 380. It seems airlines are agreeing with Boeing's forecast.
Airbus, however, sees a different future, and will continue to manufacture its A380. Airbus believes that increasing populations will force airliners to fly larger aircraft, and it's making refinements to the design of the A380—increasing the plane's range and fuel efficiency—in preparation for that possible future.
Only time will tell whether writing off the 747 is the right move.