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Fifty years on, Boeing's 747 clings to life as cargo carrier

Reuters  |  SEATTLE 

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Boeing's 747 jumbo jet, an that democratized global in the 1970s but fell behind modern twin-engine passenger jets, has bounced back from near death to mark its 50-year flying anniversary on Saturday, thanks to a cargo market boom fueled by

Boeing's "of the Skies" is the world's most easily recognized jetliner with its humped fuselage and four engines. It is now enjoying a second, perhaps less glamorous life, as a cargo mule for companies like United Parcel Service Inc.

"It's an efficiency machine for us," said Jim Mayer, a for UPS, the world's largest

UPS ordered 14 more 747-8 freighters in 2018, a lifeline that helps ease doubts over the future of the jumbo, which looks set to outlive its European competitor, Airbus SE's

Airbus is looking "extremely seriously" at closing its superjumbo factories sooner than expected, reported in January, after Dubai's Emirates indicated it might switch its orders to the smaller

Unlike the 747, Europe's superjumbo does not have a freighter version to help absorb slack demand.

had said in 2016 it could end 747 production amid falling orders and pricing pressure. like and have already said goodbye to the 747.

By keeping the 747 alive, avoids charges and layoffs for halting production at the mammoth wide-body plant outside Seattle.

It also shields newer programs like the and the latest model of 777, which would have to bear a larger share of the plant's huge overhead if the 747 line went dark.

Still, the 747's extended lifespan could be tempered by U.S.-trade tensions and concerns about a broader economic slowdown threatening freighter demand.

Global air cargo rose 3.5 percent in 2018 compared with 9.7 percent in 2017, according to the latest data from the

The 747, which had its maiden flight on Feb. 9, 1969 and entered service on Pan American in January 1970, allowed for more affordable due to its size and range.

It still flies passengers for Lufthansa, and Air China, and does have one other role.

The asked in 2017 to repurpose two 747-8 jetliners for use as by the U.S. The two are due to be delivered by December 2024, painted red, white and blue.

The $3.9 billion contract followed Donald Trump's objection to the $4 billion price tag of a previous deal. He tweeted that "costs are out of control" and added "Cancel order!"

(Reporting by in Seattle; Additional reporting by in Paris, Lisa Baertlein in Louisville, Kentucky and Jamie Freed in Singapore; Editing by and Matthew Lewis)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, February 08 2019. 18:18 IST