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United to phase out Boeing 747s this year

| Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, 9:33 p.m.
Boeing 747

United Airlines is accelerating the retirement of its Boeing 747 jumbo jets, saying its last flight on the “Queen of the Skies” will now come this year. Previously, United said its 747s would be phased out by the end of 2018.

“As deeply connected as we all are to this iconic aircraft, the time has come to retire our 747 fleet from scheduled service,” United Airlines president Scott Kirby said in a Wednesday memo to workers. “It's a bittersweet milestone — this jumbo jet with its unmistakable silhouette once represented the state-of-the-art in air travel.”

“Today, there are more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable widebody aircraft that provide an updated inflight experience for our customers traveling on long-haul flights,” Kirby added. “For these reasons, we're saying farewell to the Queen of the Skies, which has been part of our fleet since we first flew the aircraft between California and Hawaii in 1970.”

United made no mention of it in its memo, but its plans to accelerate the retirement of its 747s were announced the same day the Federal Aviation Administration was expected to issue an airworthiness directive calling for potentially expensive fixes to older models of the jets — including the type flown by United.

United's last 747 flight will come in the fourth quarter of this year, according to the memo.

“We'll be working with all of you who fly or work on the 747s to ensure a smooth transition to other fleets,” Kirby said. “Our forward-looking fleet plan will cover 747 replacements and anticipated growth opportunities.”

He also promised workers that the company will give the 747 an appropriate send-off.

“(Of) course, we'll honor the 747 with an unforgettable retirement celebration,” Kirby wrote in the memo, adding “we'll keep you posted with more details on her final flight in the months ahead.”

United is shifting its 747 flying to newer widebody jets, including the Boeing 777-300ER models that the company has just begun taking delivery of.

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