Monday, September 1, 2014

Philippine Airlines Permanently Retires Boeing 747 Fleet

The last Philippine Airlines Boeing 747 commercial flight touched down from San Francisco early on Monday morning at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, ending an era that has spanned 35 years. Philippine Airlines is phasing out the Boeing 747-400 aircraft, its former flagship aircraft, in favour of the more fuel efficient Boeing 777.

Copyright Photo: Ian Gabriel/PPSG
The Boeing 747 aircraft first entered service with Philippine Airlines in December 1979, when the Philippine flag carrier accepted delivery of a Boeing 747-200 aircraft. At the time, it was the largest and most modern aircraft in the Philippine Airlines fleet, enabling the carrier to introduce new products and services for passengers including the first ever lie-flat beds for first-class passengers known as the "Skybed."

Image Source: Wikimedia
The beds were installed on the upper deck of the original Boeing 747 fleet. In the 1980's, Philippine Airlines was also the first to fly across the Pacific non-stop to the US and Europe using the Boeing 747 aircraft.

Image Source: Flickr
Philippine Airlines later accepted delivery of the Boeing 747-400 aircraft. The first model joined the PAL fleet in November 1993 after Philippine Airlines placed an order for eight aircraft and one combi variant. However, as the carrier was suffering from financial and economic problems at the time, only three of the eight aircraft ordered plus one combi variant were delivered brand-new. 

The combi aircraft was originally slated for Kuwait Airways, but as the Middle Eastern carrier failed to take up the order, Philippine Airlines accepted the aircraft instead and operated it in a full passenger configuration. As the carrier's financial health improved, it was later able to accept an additional Boeing 747 aircraft in 2003 that was part of the original order on a lease basis, bringing the carrier's total fleet of 747 aircraft up to five. 

Over its thirty-five year career with Philippine Airlines, the Boeing 747 fleet has been primarily used on the carrier's long-haul high-density routes to destinations with major overseas Filipino worker populations including North America, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East. The carrier also used the fleet occasionally on domestic routes to cities such as Cebu and Davao, as well as on regional routes to Hong Kong. Most recently, the fleet has been used on two of the airline's busiest routes operating from Manila to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Philippine Airlines began retiring the Boeing 747 fleet shortly after the United States Federal Aviation Administration announced that the Philippines had been restored to Category 1 status. The announcement and lifting of Category 2 restrictions, enabled Philippine Airlines to deploy its more fuel-efficient Boeing 777 fleet on US routes. 

The airline expects to save as much as $120 million per year in fuel and maintenance costs by flying the Boeing 777 to the United States, rather than the Boeing 747. According to PAL President Ramon Ang, the Boeing 777 aircraft consume 25 percent less fuel compared to the Boeing 747 fleet. In addition, the maintenance costs are approximately 40 percent lower, while the Boeing 777 aircraft is overall 25 percent more efficient. 


The Boeing 747 fleet retirement at Philippine Airlines began with the aircraft registered, RP-C8168. An official retirement ceremony was held at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City earlier this year on May 12 to symbolically retire the aircraft, and pass the flagship onto its successor, the Boeing 777-300ER. The carrier had originally planned to retire the 747 fleet much earlier but was unable to do so due to fleet planning issues.

The very last Boeing 747-400 aircraft to operate in the fleet, RP-C7473, was delivered to Philippine Airlines on April 1, 1995. Unlike other aircraft deliveries, this delivery flight was unique in that the aircraft carried former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, who was in Seattle at the time attending the APEC meeting.

Copyright Photo: Ian Gabriel/PPSG
The final Philippine Airlines Boeing 747-400 flight, PR104, departed Manila for San Francisco on Saturday, August 30.

Copyright Photo: Millano Macatula/PPSG
To commemorate the occasion, passengers on the flight were provided with a letter revealing the significance of the occasion, and given an opportunity to take a special commemorative photo.

Copyright Photo: Ian Gabriel/PPSG
Image Source: Philippine Airlines/Facebook
The final return flight of the PAL Boeing 747 aircraft, PR105, later departed San Francisco on August 31 for the very last time with 285 passengers on board.

Copyright Photo: Daniel Lastrilla/PPSG

Copyright Photo: Daniel Lastrilla/PPSG
For many passengers and crew, the occasion was as emotional as it was historic with many special memories flying aboard the fleet.

Copyright Photo: Ian Gabriel/PPSG
The aircraft landed early on the morning of September 1 and taxied to Terminal 2 at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, where it was welcomed by a water-cannon salute commemorating its retirement.

Image Source: GMA News
The aircraft later departed the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 7:00pm on September 1 for the last time on its ferry flight to Clark International Airport, where it will await deployment to its new home and owner.

The departure of the last Philippine Airlines Boeing 747 flight represents the end of an era, with the Boeing 777 now officially taking on the role as the flagship aircraft of Philippine Airlines. The Boeing 777 will now operate Philippine Airlines' daily flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and select flights to Vancouver and Toronto.

Image Source: Jun JP/PPSG
Model aircraft maker Gemini Jets has released a 1:400 scale die-cast model of the Philippine Airlines Boeing 747-400 commemorating the 400 series aircraft's 21 years of service with the carrier. 

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