Aviation News

August 15, 2014

Cathay Pacific Bids Farewell to the 747 at SFO

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Written by: Eric McKirdy
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“I remember to this day the first Cathay Pacific 747 flight to San Francisco; it was a lovely, sunny day, and we were nervous as hell about the plane arriving on time,” said John Slosar, chairman of Swire Pacific, the parent company of Cathay Pacific Airways. “There were lots of VIP’s coming including the governor, lots of Cathay employees – and we had all living generations of Cathay managers in the United States.”

“I had the great pleasure of being the manager in 1986 when we began our first 747 service at SFO, which today is one of our single largest destinations in the world,” Slosar said.

Photo by Justin Barlow

Indeed, it was a tribute worthy of Boeing’s aptly named Queen of the Skies, and many industry and media figureheads were on hand at SFO’s airport museum for a farewell lunch and visit to the tarmac prior to Cathay’s 747-400 (registration B-HOP) making a final jaunt from San Francisco to Hong Kong on August 13. Cathay will retire its fleet of 21 747’s by the end of 2016; by the end of this year, only seven will remain in the air serving Asian routes. Over the next two years, all 21 will be retired, sold or parked.


DSC_0030“Our pilots speak highly of this aircraft,” said Tom Owen, Cathay Pacific Senior Vice President of the Americas. “They say it’s fun to fly, it’s easy to fly and it flies well. In the 80’s and 90’s it was a very efficient aircraft to fly. Over time as fuel prices have increased,that has changed; fuel prices are the main reason why we’ve accelerated the retirement of this aircraft. We’re taking many of these aircraft out of service earlier than we ever thought.”

When Boeing launched the 747 more than 40 years ago, it ushered in the era of the super jumbo jet, and almost every part and parcel of the aircraft was innovative. At that point, it was almost three times larger than its nearest competitor.

Tom Owen, Cathay Pacific Senior Vice President of the Americas. (Photo by Justin Barlow)

Tom Owen, Cathay Pacific Senior Vice President of the Americas.

“We were the very first delivery customer for the 747-200 in 1979,” said Owen. “The 747 of Cathay has been a truly transformational piece of equipment allowing Cathay to grow from being a regional carrier in Asia to being an international carrier,  allowing us to fly long-haul without stopping.”

With operational costs soaring, Cathay Pacific follows in the footsteps of other legacy carriers who have either decommissioned — or soon will decommission — the fuel-hungry 747. Singapore Airlines and Japan Airlines have already retired the plane, with All Nippon Airways also set to follow suit. Most recently, Delta Air Lines announced it would retire four of its 16 747’s inherited via its merger in 2009 with Northwest Airlines.

“It’s been a very important airplane for Cathay Pacific,” Slosar said of the 747. “It launched us into Europe, all over the Pacific, and now we’ve found an even better plane to replace it in the 777. We are well on our way to having 53 777-300ER’s operating all routes. Pilots love flying it, an the crews love working it. It has the very best crew rest quarters of any aircraft currently flying. Those of you who fly these aircraft will find it to be a world-class, fabulous experience.”

DSC_0068-1With many airlines opting to replace the 747 with either the 777 or the Airbus A350XWB, Cathay Pacific is placing its bets on both models.

On an equally sunny day at SFO this week, Owen spoke highly of Cathay Pacific’s fleet additions. “The future is about the 777-300ER, which is 25% more efficient on fuel – massively better fuel burn – and beyond that we have the Airbus A350XWB joining the fleet in 2015,” Owen said. “We’ve invested in new technology and we’re looking forward to the future.”

More photos from the event:

Photo by Justin Barlow







 Eric McKirdy is an Associate Editor at NYCAviation as well as a pilot. If you’d like, you can contact him on Twitter. Special thanks to Justin Barlow for providing photography of the farewell event. 

About the Author

Eric McKirdy



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