The 747-400 is now officially a classic aircraft, and it’s an increasingly rare one too. First introduced in 1989, this very successful update to the 747 line is now reaching the end of its life in the skies as operators retire them in favor of newer and more efficient models. However, one airline has given the 747-400 a new lease of life in recent years: Lufthansa.
Lufthansa loves the 747
The German flag carrier brought the 747-400 back into service in 2021, after grounding them during the initial part of the Covid-19 pandemic. Seeing a need for more lift quickly, it activated eight airframes, making it the largest passenger operator of the type in the world – by far. That’s in addition to its active fleet of 747-8i aircraft as well, of course.
Lufthansa flies them on long-haul routes to destinations such as New York, Seoul and Bengaluru. But during the month of April Lufthansa is flying the 747-400 on Sundays between Frankfurt and Palma de Mallorca (PMI). I joined up on the first flight back from Palma to Frankfurt on April 2, and it was a blast. I’d estimate twenty percent of the plane’s seats were filled by avgeeks who had come out just to catch a ride on the Queen of the Skies. Here’s the video about that experience:
Other airlines flying passenger 747-400s
Lufthansa is not the only airline that still flies passengers on the 747-400, but it is by far the dominant one. There are three other airlines that operate passenger flights with the 747-400: Asiana, Air China and Mahan Air of Iran. Each of them has just one active 747-400 in their fleet.
Track Asiana’s 747-400 HL7428.
Track Air China’s 747-400 B-2447.
Track Mahan Air’s 747-400 EP-MEE.
A look at the Flightradar24 data
Looking at the Flightradar24 data yields some intriguing insights into the current status of the 747-400. From 1 January to 25 March this year, Lufthansa flew 614 747-400 flights. That’s more than the same period in 2022, when it flew 446 flights. In contrast, the total number of 747-400 flights worldwide dropped from 30,211 in the first quarter of 2022 to 25,528 in the first quarter of 2023.
Just 1,074 of the 2023 flights carried passengers, a number more or less unchanged from the previous year. The reason for the decline in total flights this year is that most of the remaining 747-400 operators are cargo airlines, and they are now gradually replacing them with newer freighters.
Cathay Pacific comes roaring back
That’s not the case across the board though. Cathay Pacific Cargo stands out amid the pack as it came roaring back this year with 944 747-400 cargo flights, compared to 650 in the same period in 2022. That has more to do with Hong Kong (and Asia more broadly) reopening to the world than with a preference for the older model. Cathay also operates a number of 747-8F cargo aircraft.
Silk Way West Airlines, an Azerbaijani cargo carrier, has also picked up its 747-400 flying in 2023 – with a rise from 756 flights in Q1 2022 to 1,113 in Q1 2023.
Some cargo operators dropping older 747s
On the other hand Aerotranscargo, a cargo airline based in Moldova that exclusively operates the 747-400F, was very busy with 747 flights in the first few months of 2022. However 2023 has seen them park at least two of their airframes, and 747 operations in the same period this year has dropped to a meager 188 flights.
Other cargo airlines are winding down their 747-400 fleets as well, as they take delivery of newer freighters. Kalitta Air and China Airlines Cargo are among those that are reducing their 747-400 flying as they ramp up their 767 and 777F operations. Kalitta Air is also due to receive its first 777-330ER(BDSF) later this year, a converted passenger aircraft that will offer more payload and range than the 747-400F.
Kalitta’s 747 operations dropped from 3,171 flights in Q1 2022 to 2,504 in Q1 2023. China Airlines Cargo saw a very similar dip in numbers.
Lufthansa 747-400 top destinations
So if you want to catch a glimpse of a passenger 747-400 in action (or even better, hitch a ride on one before it becomes impossible), you’d better hurry. And Lufthansa is your best bet, of course. Here are the top eight destinations for Lufthansa 747-400s so far in 2023:
In a brief chat with the pilots of the 747-400 after landing at Frankfurt on Sunday, the First Officer hinted that Lufthansa will likely end up keeping its -400s flying longer than expected. But if you’re someone hoping to catch that classic 747-400, that doesn’t mean you can relax. Whether you want to experience the thrill of flying on a four-engine jumbo jet, or simply admire its iconic silhouette from the ground, don’t miss this opportunity to witness a piece of aviation history before it’s too late.