The Chart:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Older 747s Disappearing (R.I.P. line 1085)

No news here really, just my own ramblings.

Three weeks ago I went to Seoul and back on two United 747s, and was reminded why I love the 747. Not specifically United, who's service was adequate although definitely a step down from my recent KLM and Air France flights to Europe, but the 747 itself. It feels fantastic in the air, notably sturdy and solid, and it's spacious inside, even in economy seating. The cabin itself feels so roomy. I flew on N197UA there (new livery, 15 years old), and N120UA back (old livery, 14 years old). It got me thinking about United's 747 fleet, and a recent ferry flight I'd noticed. Back on December 27th 2012, N193UA (line 1085) flew from Victorville to Tupelo in a three hour flight. This frame was put into storage in 2008, after just twelve years of service, sat around for the next four years, and I was hopeful this ferry flight meant something good for line 1085. Well, after doing some more research due to my renewed interest in United jumbos, I found this frame was sold to Universal Aircraft Management, an aircraft salvage company, and Tupelo is their killing ground. Sadly it's probably already lying in pieces. A number of United 747s got the short end of the stick, like line 919.

Here's line 1085's final flight:

Twelve years isn't a bad run. My car is 15 years old and seems ancient. Twelve years tearing through the skies is a decent amount of time, not nearly as sad as frames like line 977 for China Airlines (written off at six months old), line 1083 for Korean Airlines (written off at two years old) or line 1416 (maybe a couple hours in the sky, but at least it should have a future... if this frame goes to Tupelo I'll slip into depression!) Still, other United frames, like N171UA (line 733) which is 24 years old and doesn't look to be retiring any time soon, press on with daily long haul routes. Hell, Delta is still flying the original 747-400 and probably will be until around 2020. Lufthansa recently retired a few 24 year old 747-400s with over 120,000 hours on them. Now that's a properly utilized airframe. Alas, line 1085 probably had less than 50,000 hours on it, and that was it. It makes me wonder about the decision making process that lead to a twelve year old frame being parked while a twenty year old frame lives on.

  • Was it because the newer frame was worth more? United never sold a few of the newest frames that they had retired though (like lines 1085 and 1113).
  • Was there a heavy check due on the newer frame that was a ways off on the older frame? Not really a benefit when the older frame is still going to need one eventually.  At least, you'd think they'd fly the older frame till it was up for a heavy check while storing the newer frame in the desert, then apply the inevitable check to the newer frame and scrap the old one.
  • Was there something wrong with the newer frame? Some damage or something else that doomed it?
  • Some sort of depreciation tax issue that made retiring the new frame beneficial. This is sadly my first guess.

Considering these, what about the advantages of a new frame that were apparently not enough to keep it flying? Namely improvements in design, weight, and performance that usually happen over the course of a particular model's manufacturing run. Wouldn't the newer United frames that got parked be lighter and less fuel hungry than the early frames?

This has made me wonder about the dreaded heavy checks as well. Are they flight time/cycle based, solely time based, or a combination (36,000 hours in the air or six years since last check, whichever comes first). If it's the later, does that mean a new frame like line 1416, which has been in the air maybe 10 hours, is due for a heavy check in the next two years? That seems crazy, but there's something to the six year time period regarding 747s and other heavy planes. They often seem to get retired at the 12, 18, 24, or 30 year mark.

Anyways, 747-400s retirements are accelerating, and Classics (100s, 200s and 300s) are all but gone. Cathay has parked a bunch this month in particular. It makes me somber because these 747s are being replaced with other frames I'm not as fond of flying on, and with the dearth of 747-8I orders, just a reminder that over the next ten years the opportunities to get that special 747 experience are dwindling. I'm still hopeful an American carrier orders some 747-8Is but it feels like a long shot at this time. Hopefully that changes.

Friday, March 29, 2013

"March"ing deliveries

Six frames delivered in March.

1.) Line 1420 (RC501) LX-VCA Cargolux #7 on the 8th (747-8 "line 1")
2.) Line 1470 (RC026) D-ABYG Lufthansa #5 on the 13th
3.) Line 1429 (RC571) HZ-AI3 Saudi Arabian Cargo #1 on the 23rd
4.) Line 1472 (RC027) D-ABYH Lufthansa #6 on the 27th
5.) Line 1474 (RC547) HL7617 Korean Air Cargo #3 on the 28th
6.) Line 1471 (RC581) N854GT Atlas #8 also on the 28th, delivery flight pending.

That's some good business, and a lot of freed up space on the KPAE tarmac (which was getting very crowded with 787s and 747s). That's also a total of 46 747-8s delivered now. Here's a couple great pictures of line 1472's delivery flight (thanks to Matt Cawby).

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Tribute to an Overdue Delivery #2 : Line 1429

Line 1429 (RC571) HZ-AI3 for Saudi Arabian Cargo delivered today. This frame has been sitting around Paine Field for ever. It was initially destined for Atlas, but was rejected (along with two of her sister ships) due to being too heavy. Atlas instead is taking recently built frames in her place. Enter Saudi Arabian Cargo, who stepped in and bought her (and at least one of her rejected sisters) after she languished for years, unfinished on the KPAE tarmac. Here she is leaving today:

Line 1429 rolled off the assembly line back in August of 2010.

As she was intended for Atlas and to be painted for British Air Cargo, she received a half finished paint job in BA blue and white.

After Atlas refused to take her, she spent almost two years in various storage locations.

Back in the middle of 2012, refurbishment started, which took about half a year to complete.

 On January 31, a first flight. Read about it here:

Shortly after that she received her first full paint job in Portland (thanks to planephotoman).

And finally today, a delivery flight. The almost 14 hour flight to King Abdulaziz International is by far the longest and farthest this formerly static frame has traveled. I can't wait to catch her on flight aware racking up the hours earning her keep. And now I also look forward to line 1432 joining her. Thanks to Matt Cawby and Russell Hill for some of the pictures in this post.

Cargolux #8 first flight

This happened today:

Line 1473 (RC508) LX-VCH for Cargolux's first flight.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Line 1474 First Flight

Line 1474 (RC547) HL7617 for Korean Air Cargo had a healthy first flight today, spending over 4 hours in the air including a go around on the first landing attempt.

Last two photos thanks to moonm.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New Orders, New Deliveries

Anyone who reads this blog probably already knows most of the following news, because it's old news really. I just got back from a little globe trotting myself (Europe/South Korea), and I haven't been doing well updating the blog in a timely fashion while away.

First, some great news: five new orders for 747-8s. Three 747-8Fs for Cathay Pacific, and two extra 747-8Is for Air China. Of course, these were complex deals involving swapping 777F orders and returning old 747-400BCFs to Boeing for compensation. Read about the details here, thanks to David Harris at New orders for 747s should be celebrated by fans of the plane right now, because they definitely aren't selling like hot cakes.

Speaking of 747-400BCFs: they aren't very appealing with fuel prices as high as they are, with the CEO of Cathay saying it's impossible to come close to recouping fuel costs for long haul routes (I can't find the article I read where he said exactly this, but similar quotes can be found here. These throw the older 747-400 passenger frames under the bus as well). Boeing however did place one old BCF with Evergreen on March 1st, so there must be some market for them. Line 739 N779BA, a 24 year old former Korean Air passenger frame converted to a freighter, is back in service, flying long haul too. This registration number caused me to erroneously announce that N797BA, the infamous line 1416 747-400ERF that still sits in the desert unused and unloved, was going to find a home. Alas, it has not. I don't know exactly what made N779BA so desirable at 24 years of age, other than the fact that she must have been dirt cheap and be a ways off from a heavy check. I don't even think they painted her, as she's seen here on delivery day in leftover Korean Air light blue, and she's been flying revenue flights ever since. I'm assuming this means her time in service probably won't be all that long. Line 1376, a former Jade Cargo bird (pictured here in new livery), was also supposed to deliver to Southern Air, but there must be some holdup because it hasn't happened yet.

Two new planes delivered recently, the first deliveries of 2013. The first was line 1420, the first 747-8 ever built or flown, to Cargolux (which I did a special post on below), and last night line 1470 (RC026) D-ABYG delivered to Lufthansa, their fifth 747-8I.

There was a bit of drama over an LCF at Boeing Field yesterday (thanks to Matt Cawby for the coverage).

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Tribute to an Overdue Delivery #1 : Line 1420

Line 1420 (RC501) LX-VCA, Cargolux's 7th 747-8F, delivered on Friday. This frame was the first ever 747-8 built and flown, and was the first and primary test article for the program.

 She rolled out on November 12th, 2009, and first flew on February 8th, 2010, over three years ago.

After a long and diligent test program, line 1420 was flown down to Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio to begin a slow refurbishment to delivery standards. She reappeared towards the end of 2012, flying back to Paine Field on October 2nd, 2012. Shortly after that, she flew to Portland for a paint job. When she returned to Paine Field on November 12th, 2012, she looked like she was ready to start going to work (photo thanks to Russel Hill).

Finally she delivered to Cargolux to enter a long life of revenue service, flying to her new home in Luxembourg on Friday (all other photos and video thanks to Matt Cawby).

I should have done something like this for lines 1422, 1426, 1430, and 1431. Maybe I will in the future. I think it's cool to see some visual history for frames that took two or more years to deliver into service, especially the former test frames that changed liveries.