For decades it was the Queen of the skies and the workhorse of modern air travel, but a recent announcement means there will be far less jumbo jets in the skies.

In what has been described as “a  bittersweet milestone”, the big US carrier, United Airlines, has announced plans to fly its last Boeing 747 jumbo late this year – 12 months ahead of schedule.

At the same time, United will purchase an additional 25 current-generation Boeing 737-700 aircraft, following its earlier order of 40.

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The company says it will take delivery of the aircraft from the end of the year.

United’s decision marks the end of an era for that particular airline, which has flown the four-engine, double-decker jumbo since 1970.

Fundamental change

However, it also reflects a fundamental shift in the industry toward smaller, twin-engine planes.

Aircraft like Boeing’s 777 and the Airbus A350 are able to haul almost as many people over vast distances as the four-engine giants – but with greater fuel-efficiency.

United Airlines, together with its associated United Express, operates an average of almost 5,000 flights a day to 342 airports across six continents.

As befits the jumbo’s iconic status as the plane that revolutionised air travel and shrunk the world, United is apparently planning a big retirement for its 747’s.

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