With over 50 years of history and numerous variants launched, the 747 program has changed how passengers (and freight) travel. Being the launch customer of a new type or type variant is exciting and comes with some prestige. Let’s take a look at the first airlines (launch customers) for each Boeing 747 model.
In the beginning…
As is probably quite well known in the aviation world, Pan Am was the launch customer for the very first Boeing 747-100, having been an influential voice in the design of the jet. With Pan Am’s commitment to order 25 jumbo jets, Boeing had what it needed to move forward with the aircraft’s development. In January of 1970, the first 747 delivery was made to Pan Am was christened by First Lady Pat Nixon. This first jet was named Clipper Victor.
It’s a little hazier when it comes to the next 747 iteration, the 747-200. One online forum believes that the launch customer for this passenger variant was KLM. Meanwhile, the freighter model, the 747-200F, entered service in 1972 with Lufthansa.
Modern Airliners reports that Japan Airlines was the first to fly the first 747-100SR (short-range). The rollout for this jet took place in August of 1973. Shortly after, ANA (All Nippon Airways) took delivery of the first 747-100BSR in December of 1978.
From here, it was Pan Am who had the honor of being the launch customer for the 747SP. The airline took the first delivery of this shortened jumbo on March 5th, 1976. This particular jet was named Clipper Freedom.
Seven years later, on March 23rd, 1983, Swissair took the first delivery of the 747-300. Several years after this, in 1985-1986, Japan Airlines would be the first to use two short-range Boeing 747-300SR jumbo jets. The carrier operated such aircraft on domestic, high-capacity services such as Okinawa–Tokyo.
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The 747’s most popular variant
Then, in February of 1989, Northwest would become the first to fly the 747-400 on a commercial service. This would take passengers from Minneapolis to Phoenix route.
The first 747-400M Combi would roll out in March 1989, with the first delivery following in September. This was when it entered service with KLM (who also took delivery of the last 747-400M in April 2002).
Several years later, in 1993, Cargolux would be the first operator of the 747-400F.
The 747-400 was, of course, the most popular variant of the jumbo jet. It also had a number of sub-variants tailored to various operational environments.
The Longer-Range 747-400 program was officially launched in November 2000 with an order from Qantas for six of the type. The first 747-400ER rollout was in June 2002, with Qantas taking first delivery in October 2002. With similar timings as the passenger variant, the first 747-400ER Freighter (747-400ERF) rollout was in September 2002. The first delivery took place in October of 2002 to Air France.
In December 2005, Cathay Pacific celebrated completion and certification of the first 747-400 Boeing Converted Freighter, or 747-400BCF. This took place with a redelivery ceremony held in Xiamen, the People’s Republic of China. According to Boeing, Cathay Pacific launched the Boeing passenger-to-freighter conversion program in January 2004.
The final variant
The final variant of the 747 was the 747-8. This would be split into the 747-8i for passengers and 747-8F for freight transport.
In October of 2011, Cargolux became the first operator to fly the 747-8F. Shortly after, in June 2012, Lufthansa conducted the inaugural flight of the first 747-8i. This took passengers from Frankfurt to Washington, D.C.
Interestingly, many of these types are still operating with various carriers around the world. Now that we’ve covered all of the ‘first airlines,’ we will just have to wait and see which airlines will become the ‘last operators’ of each type.
Which 747 variants have you flown on? Let us know in the comments.