Delta Will Stage Last Commercial Flight of Boeing 747

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Airlines have been phasing out the use of the Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) 747, which first took to the skies in 1969. The last U.S. commercial flight will be a Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) flight from Detroit to Seoul with an arrival in South Korea set for December 20.

The carrier announced:

This weekend Delta will bid a final farewell to one of its most iconic aircraft, Ship 6309, the last Boeing 747-400 to be retired by a U.S. air carrier.

Delta’s history with the Queen of the Skies is unique in that it had acquired and retired its first fleet of 747s by 1977 only to acquire a new fleet of 747s from its merger with Northwest Airlines in 2008.

The timeline below aims to capture the long history of this beloved aircraft in preparation for the airline’s farewell tour for Ship 6309, which will begin on Sunday, Dec. 17, with the last domestic departure from Detroit to Seoul, the last international arrival from Seoul to Detroit, and a series of employee flights to Detroit, Seattle, Atlanta and finally Minneapolis on Dec. 20.

The current version of the 747, the 747-8, has a list price of $386.8 million. The version most likely to survive, at least for a few years, is the 747-8 Freighter, which is used by shipping companies. The 747 is simply too old and fuel inefficient for airlines to use. It has been replaced by Boeing mostly by the 777, which has only two engines and can travel over 8,500 nautical miles. The relatively new 777-8 has a list price of $379.2 million. Carriers rarely, if ever, pay list price.

Other carriers have staged their last 747 commercial flights recently. United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL) was last month.

Where do these planes go after their commercial use is over? Mostly to be stored in deserts where dry air will do them the least damage. From there, it is anyone’s guess.