Concord Aerospace article on The Economist

Concord Aerospace article on The Economist

Many thanks to Guy Scriven for the interview and the following article. 



FOR many aeroplane enthusiasts, buying a Boeing 747 is the stuff of dreams. The “Queen of the Skies” is an icon from the golden age of air travel, a period the 1960s and 1970s when the industry was at its most glamorous. And owning one would be like having a little piece of aviation history.

Last week that dream shifted slightly closer to reality, albeit only for well-heeled fans. Three Boeing 747s went up for auction on Taobao, China’s equivalent of eBay. The seller is a state court in Shenzhen, which seized the planes when Jade Cargo International, an airline, went bust in 2012. At first, state officials tried to flog the planes offline at private auctions. But after six failed attempts, they opened the sale up to public bids. Offers currently range from 122m yuan ($18.5m) to 135m yuan.

This is not the first time one of the planes has been auctioned online. Last year Concord Aerospace, a Florida-based firm which buys and sells plane parts, offered a decommissioned 747 on eBay. Because the engines had been removed, the suggested starting bid was a mere $300,000. Even so, the plane did not sell. That is largely because the cost of shipping would have been many times higher than the auction price, explains Mert Balta, Concord Aerospace’s founder.

The fact that 747s are ending up on online auction sites is a sign of their waning appeal. Their share of worldwide available seat miles—a measure of total seat capacity and mileage—is tumbling. Both United Airlines and Delta are planning to fly their last scheduled 747 flights by the end of this year.

One reason for this is the 747’s inefficiency. They are heavier than most of the smaller, twin-engine models and so burn more fuel. On a trip between New York and Los Angeles, for instance, a 747 will consume 30% more fuel per passenger than the smaller, twin-engine Airbus A320. When oil prices soared in the late-1990s and early-2000s, the 747 became even more expensive to fly.

Another reason is changing patterns in flight schedules, as Gulliver has previously noted. When the popularity of flying started to boom in the 1980s, airlines began to offer a greater range of take-off times to travellers. More flights on smaller planes became the norm, rather than a handful on the big 747s.

Though fans may bemoan the loss of an iconic aircraft, some 747s have been given a new lease of life in their retirement. One was transformed into a noodle restaurant in South Korea (though that too later went bust). Another has been converted into Jumbo Stay, a hostel near Stockholm airport in Sweden. Mr Balta even has plans to turn the fuselage of his 747 into caravans and houses. The Queen of the Skies may be grounded, but she has not been consigned to the scrapheap just yet.


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