Cathay Pacific will mark the end of an era tomorrow, when its last Boeing 747 aircraft makes it final flight.
The aircraft, a B747-400, will fly from Tokyo to Hong Kong on 1 October 2016, marking the end of 37 years’ of service with Cathay.
It was the only long-haul aircraft on the airline’s fleet from its introduction in 1979 to mid-1990s, when the Airbus A340 was launched. And during this time it helped Cathay quadruple its annual passenger figures – from 2.5 million in 1979 to 10.4 million in 1995. Visitor numbers to Hong Kong over the same period grew almost identically – from 2.2 million in 1979 to 10.2 million in 1995.
Cathay also trebled the size of its workforce in the 15 years following the B747’s introduction, from approximately 5,000 to nearly 15,000 staff, making the airline one of Hong Kong’s largest employers.
The B747 helped drive Cathay’s expansion to multiple new destinations during the 1980s, including London, Paris, Rome and Vancouver.
“The 747 fundamentally changed the way people were able to travel,” said Cathay’s general manager of operations, Mark Hoey, who was previously a chief pilot of the B747. “Being able to carry more people for far greater distances than before meant the 747 effectively shrunk the planet.
“The aircraft had a vital effect on the development of Hong Kong as an international aviation hub – and indeed, Hong Kong’s economic and tourism prospects. As a result, it helped make Hong Kong become a world city,” he added.
Rising oil prices however, have made old four-engined aircraft like the B747 and A340 uneconomical to run, and Cathay has now started upgrading its long-haul fleet with modern, fuel-efficient B777s and A350s.
But these new aircraft will struggle to recreate the romance and glamour associated with the B747, and many people will be disappointed to see the retire.
“I dare say many Cathay Pacific staff will feel sad – many have a very close attachment to the aircraft, so it does feel like it is the end of an era,” said Tony Britton, who spent more than 30 years working on the 747 as an engineer. “I will certainly be one of them. It will be an emotional moment when the last passenger 747 departs the fleet for the very last time.”