Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Until a few decades ago the number of airlines around the world was so low that many international travelers would identify any airline’s nationality by just having a quick look at the tail, name or insignia.
During that time, most countries used to have one national carrier and many airlines were shared, owned and operated by more than one country such as Gulf Air. At that time Kingdom of Bahrain, Oman, the UAE and Qatar didn’t have enough passenger capacity and facilities to have individual airlines for each one of them. However, the situation changed after Boeing introduced an aircraft that had the biggest impact on the aviation industry. This aircraft was called B-747.
From Jan. 22, 1970, when the new Super Jumbo was introduced with Pan Am insignia, the aircraft became the real icon of major airlines. If an airline didn’t have a B-747, then it was not considered big. The B-747 for an airline was like a diploma for a college student. Pilots loved to fly it and passengers bragged about boarding it. When it was introduced only few traveled by air. When B-747 was introduced, there were only Saudi Airline, Gulf Air and Kuwait Airways operating in the Gulf regions. The B-747 changed the way people traveled. Flying became easy for many people around the world, but it wasn’t an easy decision, planning and manufacturing for Boeing. The wide-body aircraft will not be seen at an airport near you anymore.
During the 1960s after huge competition between major US aircraft manufacturers to build wide-body aircraft for the military, Boeing made a risky decision to build the B-747. It is true that Pan Am played a big part in putting the B-747 on the designing board but it was Boeing that would have paid the price for failure. Because of the size of the plane, Boeing had to do many things from scratch. Their plant was not big enough, so, it had to build new plant, which forced them into buying vast areas of lands.
Boeing have manufactured more than 1,500 B-747 aircraft with the capability to carry more than 400 passengers with long-range capability and the size, takeoff, landing and taxiing requirement of the B-747 also forced changes to many airports around the world. Many people in Saudi Arabia still remember the day Saudi Airline became the largest and the most efficient airline in the Middle East when the B-747 joined its fleet. The pilots became more experienced and the crew became more professional in their work. It was not a simple task for an airline to have a B-747 in its fleet.
As time passed, the B-747 became a cultural icon. It represented the art of flying. And as the production of the B-747 is nearing an end, many are talking about the good old days when airports were less of a hassle and flying was more fun. At the time when the B-747 was the queen of the sky, seats were little bit bigger and onboard services were much better. It is true that new planes have better electronic gadgets and avionics and there are even bigger planes than the B-747 with longer range such as the Airbus A-380 but it is the atmosphere at airports that make people relate the aviation’s hey days with the B-747. Now, many airlines are announcing the termination of using the B-747 and many aviation experts are surprised over the world’s opinion and emotional responses regarding this airplane. It is a flying machine that helped move millions of people and cargo across the globe and it helped make our world looked smaller many years before the Internet did. Two B-747 aircraft will stay alive in the aviation history. One is the American presidential plane, Air Force One and the other is the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. The End of an Era reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.