Northwest Airlines has taken another type out of its fleet, taking the last Boeing 747-200 ‘classic’ out of regularLY scheduled service with its final operation on the Tokyo Narita to to Saipan to Seattle route. The plane arrived in Seattle on time as Flight 8 and continued from Seattle to the Northwest home base of Minneapolis/St. Paul as Flight 170, and was then retired. The 430-seat plane, N624US, was built for Northwest in 1979. The airline’s two remaining 747-200s will continue to operate for some 18 months as charter aircraft. Northwest replaced the 747-200 with the Airbus A330 on the Tokyo Narita-Saipan route.
“The 747-200 was the mainstay of our international fleet, particularly in the Pacific, for several decades,” said Captain Lane Littrell, Northwest fleet training captain on the 747-200. The airline retired its 747-100s at the turn of the century, and retired its DC-10-40s two years later. Its DC-10-30s were retired this year. Northwest still has more than 15 of the new-generation 747-400s.
The 747 classic was important to Northwest’s transpacific service when the airline, along with the old Pan American World Airways, was a major US presence across the Pacific; when Pan Am’s Pacific division became part of United Airlines in 1987, the two vied for the lucrative trade. Northwest had an advantage with its Tokyo hub operation, United had a major feeder operation through San Francisco, while Continental Airlines long had a major Japan-South Pacific route network. So even before the rise of the Asian powerhouse airlines such as JAL and ANA, competition across the Pacific was always strenuous. At one point in the early 1960s, Northwest boasted that it had the fastest US Asia flights with its DC-8s, the airline’s first "pure" jet, and used the word 'Orient' as part of its full name - Northwest Orient Airlines - to emphasise its strengths.