Opinion | A tribute to the Boeing 747, the ‘Queen of Taiwan Sky’

A Boeing 747-SP-09 landing at Kai Tak International Airport in British Hong Kong in December 1996. The 747-SP was one of the first aircraft in the fleet, provided by China Airlines. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Boeing 747 was a plane I loved to fly when I was little. Before I became a “full time” aviation enthusiast and could identify almost every single aircraft in the sky, the “Queen of the Skies” was the first plane I could recognize.

Featuring four engines and a distinctive “hump” that formed her elegant shape, the Queen was large and famous at airports around the world. She was grand and magnificent.

From my childhood years, I could remember every flight on such a special aircraft — not just the numerous destinations it safely brought me and my family to — but also the spaciousness in every cabin class, in every aisle, in every galley.

China Airlines Boeing 747SP-09 is pictured in Los Angeles, California, on Nov. 13, 1985. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I remember the thrill of running up the stairs to the upper deck, which revealed an exclusive, cozy cabin no other aircraft featured. I may have loved to fly on the Boeing 747, but little did I know at the time was that the plane would become a rare aircraft type before I even entered high school.

More significantly, I wasn’t aware of the story behind the Boeing 747, and the profound impact the aircraft has made in Taiwan’s aviation industry over the years.

All the way back in 1977, four brand new Boeing 747SPs (Special Performance) were delivered to Taiwan-based China Airlines (CAL, 中華航空), giving the airline the ability to fly nonstop from Taiwan to North America.

An Eva Air Boeing 747-400 is pictured in this photograph taken in 2005 by Konstantin von Wedelstaedt in an unknown location. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

This was significant because every other aircraft 40 years ago needed to refuel when crossing the Pacific Ocean because of range limitations. However, China Airlines at the time was banned from stopping over in Japan, due to the Chinese Communist Party’s notorious political influence.

It was not until 2014 when the first new-generation Boeing 777 was first delivered that China Airlines finally gradually swapped out the Boeing 747 model. For decades, the “Queen of the Skies” served as the backbone of China Airlines’ fleet, reliably flying passengers abroad and back home.

The Boeing 747 was not just popular on long haul flights; the aircraft’s capacity and well-equipped cabins made it also suitable for high demand short-haul flights, such as to Hong Kong, Japan, and China.

A Boeing 747SP-09 from China Airlines is pictured at Changi International Airport, Singapore on July 31, 19851. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

For China Airlines’ biggest rival, EVA Air (長榮航空), the Boeing 747 was just as important to their history of growth and innovation as an airline. EVA took delivery of its first two Boeing 747-400s in 1992, using them to launch daily service to Los Angeles, its first North American destination.

The world’s first-ever Premium Economy cabin was also rolled out at the same time, making EVA the first airline to ever configure aircraft with four distinct cabin classes: First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy.

In total, EVA Air operated 18 of the majestic and versatile airplanes through almost a quarter-century of service. Including seven B747-400 passenger jets, eight B747-400 Combis carrying both passenger and cargo, and three B747-400 freighters.

The interior of a Boeing 747 from Eva Air is pictured in this undated photo. (Courtesy of EVA Airways)

On Aug. 21, 2017, EVA Airways retired its last Boeing 747-400 passenger aircraft from its fleet, replacing its long haul fleet with a full set of Boeing 777-300ER planes.

By operating the “Queen of the Skies” from Taiwan to numerous destinations across the world, Taiwan’s international airlines were able to expand their route network rapidly and become major players in the aviation industry.

At the same time, the Boeing 747s flown by China Airlines and EVA Air have brought millions of passengers to and from Taiwan, stimulating tourism and helping Taiwan establish its reputation as a key business and leisure destination.

China Airlines Boeing 747SP-09 is pictured in 1989 in an unknown location. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Nowadays, as more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 787 are available, airlines have chosen to retire their Queens in order to reduce fuel consumption and operational costs.

For the average passenger, the retiring of the Boeing 747 means newer and quieter aircraft cabins. But for an aviation enthusiast like myself, I will always be nostalgic about the days where the Queen roamed the sky — and helped build the Taiwanese aviation industry to what it is today.