You are here
El Al retires its last Boeing 747 in style
[NEW YORK] It's not often that an airline draws attention to a late flight, as was the case on Sunday when an El Al jumbo jet from Rome to Tel Aviv landed 95 minutes after it had been scheduled to arrive.
The flight, 1747, had taken a circuitous route over the Mediterranean Sea, not because of weather, air traffic or geopolitical reasons.
No, this was the retirement flight for the Boeing 747, the double-decker workhorse of El Al's fleet since 1971. El Al is replacing the 747 with Boeing's 787-9 Dreamliner, which is more fuel-efficient. To mark the end of the era, the pilot zigged and zagged, following a route shaped like the 747. Call it sky art.
The pilot traced the wings, tail and four engines of the jumbo jet, referred to as the Queen of the Sky, southwest of Cyprus before returning to a more conventional easterly route, flight trackers showed.
Jay Spenser, co-author of "747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation," said the 747 fundamentally redefined the experience of global air travel.
"The most widely and instantly recognized aircraft in the world, the Boeing 747 transcends aviation because it has become a global pop icon," Mr Spenser said in an email. "Its per-seat operating costs were so low that it opened intercontinental flying to the masses. Unlike its long-forgotten competitors — the Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011 — it remains in production to this day."
Environmentalists troubled about carbon emissions may be a little less exuberant about the flight. Some people, including Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in an emissions-free yacht to draw attention to global warming, have eschewed air travel.
A pilot of a milestone flight has traced the shape of a plane before, as Katie Genter of thepointsguy.com, a popular air travel website, pointed out. In 2017, a Boeing pilot traced the outline of a 787 Dreamliner over the continental United States. It took about 12 hours.
El Al, the Israeli national airline, is banned from flying over much of North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan and Indonesia. (A representative from the airline didn't respond to a request for comment on Sunday.)
Avi Scharf, the English edition editor of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, called the 747's retirement flight, combined with a test flight of Israel's new presidential plane, a "historic day" in Israeli aviation.
Some had mixed feelings about El Al's retirement of the 747.
"El Al's 747s have a dreadful interior and it's time to go," Jason Rabinowitz, an aviation researcher and airline buff, wrote on Twitter, "but always sad to see another Queen of the Skies fleet retire."
Mr Spenser, who has worked as a curator for both the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, and the Museum of Flight in Seattle, said the 747 holds a unique place in the hearts of airline flight and cabin crews, in addition to its popularity with travelers.
"The ongoing phase-out of 747s from global fleets in favor of more fuel-efficient twin-engine jets is emotional due to the strong bonds air carriers share with this Boeing workhorse," Mr Spenser said. "Its passing from the scene does not go unheralded by airlines, who find unique ways to celebrate a shared destiny and say goodbye."