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Cathay Pacific

Time flies as Cathay’s Boeing 747 fleet set to retire, marking end of ultra-large aircraft era

The airline’s last commercial flight with the 747 model will be on September 30

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 8:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 2:22am

Cathay Pacific Airways is retiring its last three Boeing 747 passenger aircraft this week, marking the end of the ultra-large aircraft era.

The airline’s last Boeing 747 commercial flight is scheduled for a round trip from Hong Kong to Haneda Airport in Tokyo on September 30. After the plane returns from Japan, Cathay’s 747 fleet will be officially replaced by the Boeing 777-300ER, which is slightly smaller but with more economical twin-jet engines.

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The Boeing 747, dubbed the “queen of the skies”, is recognised as one of the most important inventions of the 20th century, making long-haul travel affordable for passengers.

The double-decker jet can carry more than 400 passengers and has a flight range of 7,260 nautical miles compared to about 189 passengers and 5,750 miles by its predecessor, the Boeing 707.

But current aviation trends seem to favour lighter and more economical jets.

Tony Britton, an aircraft project manager at Cathay, said the company now flies to smaller airports, so ultra-large aircraft are no longer suitable.

Britton added that the number of flights by the new 777s would be increased. “We now have five flights to London. We prefer connectivity and frequency now,” he said.

Cathay has been retiring 747 passenger jets since 2005. But Britton said 23 freighter versions of the 747s will stay in service with the newest model expected to serve the company’s air freight business for another 25 years.

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The retired 747s will be sent to the United States and United Kingdom to be disassembled with valuable components recycled. Cathay owned up to 25 such passenger jets in the early 2000s.

Inflight service manager Monica Tong, who began her flight attendant career on a 747, said the plane also contributed to her profession. She benefitted from Cathay’s expansion as the arrival of the 747s in 1979 helped the airline quadruple its annual passenger volumes by 1995.

“It was my dream to go beyond Asia and travel the world, and it was thanks to the 747 that I was able to do so,” Tong said. Her favourite memory of the 747 is its spiral staircase, which connected the two decks.

“I remember kids used to play rock-paper-scissors on the stairs,” Tong said.

“The winner of each round went up a step, and kids competed to get to the upper deck.”