Friday, April 22, 2011

Sayonara 747-San

I'd already written about the legacy of the Boeing 747 and what it means to me personally. This time however, a couple of things caught my eye that I found more than a little interesting. The first is the coverage given to the Air France A380 collision at JFK with a Comair (Delta) regional jet. Ground collisions happen all the time but this one marks the first official "accident" involving the massive plane at an airport re-jiggered specifically to make room for the great beast. Lots of investigating will take place regarding taxi clearance, which plane might have been out of position, whether or not the ground controller should have cleared the A380 and so on and so on.

When the 747 came on to the scene JFK and other major airports around the world were caught in a similar quandary and that was how to handle the monster on the ground given the current alignment of taxiways, runways and ramp space at the gates. It wasn't so much the width of the fuselage but the height of the access panels, cargo compartments and passenger doors to say nothing of the huge, nearly 200 foot wing span. Moving all of that on the ground gracefully meant considerable investment in upgraded infrastructure, money most airport and airline managers have long since forgotten about and considered worth every penny.

Here comes the A380 with the same issues all over again and the almost Tonka toy treatment it gave to the hapless commuter plane unfortunate enough to be in the way. Were the preparations and improvements sufficient or is more work needed especially around crunch time with more traffic on the ground than was originally planned? We'll find out soon enough. The other interesting tidbit I discovered, getting back to the 747 itself, is a recent small article announcing the last revenue operation of the 747 by Japan Airlines in February.

Not even the domestic "-SR" version remains in the JAL fleet, simply a flabbergasting revelation. Japan Airlines once owned the largest 747 fleet in the world, at one point operating more of this type than any other aircraft in their system. The great plane represented strength, stability, even status to the lay passenger who appreciated and expected the latest in technology along with maximum comfort. The rest of the world was amazed in the early days that a 747 custom built for short-haul sectors in Japan could regularly carry 500+ passengers on a flight so short as that between Tokyo/Haneda and Osaka/Itami, hardly an hour in the air from start to finish. Others still remember the tragic loss of one such 747 operating JAL #123 on that exact route in August of 1985.

The other great Japanese airline, All Nippon, has also pulled its international models but will retain the domestic 747 fleet for a few more years, until 2015 according to the article I read. My one experience with the 747 on a Japanese carrier was a roundtrip flight on All Nippon between Tokyo/Haneda and Okinawa. Coach service both ways, a light snack on board and nothing special other than simply being on the plane which flew smooth and true in both directions.

The 747 was built for heavy international lifting and specifically for extremely dense markets, plenty of which happened to be within Japan itself. There will be 747s over the skies of this island nation for a few more years but the fact that none will be in the home colors is nothing short of astounding.

Gotta go.

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