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United moves up 747 retirement to this year

United Airlines is speeding up the retirement of its Boeing 747 fleet, moving the timeline forward by nearly a year to the fourth quarter.

“It’s a bittersweet milestone — this jumbo jet with its unmistakable silhouette once represented the state-of-the-art in air travel,” says Scott Kirby, president of the Chicago-based carrier, in a letter to employees today. “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.”

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Christian Junker

United operates 20 747-400s, its latest fleet plan shows. It first introduced the jumbo jet in 1970.

The airline previously planned to retire the 747s by the third quarter of 2018. However, executives said as recently as November that the retirements could be accelerated.

United flies 374-seat 747-400s from its San Francisco hub to Beijing, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Seoul Incheon, Taipei and Tokyo Narita, FlightGlobal schedules show.

The carrier will begin replacing 747s with new 366-seat Boeing 777-300ERs in March. It plans to shift its San Francisco-Hong Kong flight to the 777 that month.

United's fleet plan allows for both the 747 retirements and future growth, says Kirby.

The airline will take delivery of 12 Boeing 777-300ERs this year, complementing the two that it took before the end of 2016, the Flight Fleets Analyzer shows. It is also scheduled to take delivery of two Boeing 787-9s in 2017.

In 2018, United will receive six widebody aircraft, including its first three Airbus A350-1000s and first 787-10, the database shows.

The carrier has yet to set a date for its final 747 flight, says Kirby.

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