Initial concerns over the possibility that pilots might have trouble handling so large an aircraft quickly dissipated, and to become a Boeing 747 captain became the dream of every airline pilot. The classic airplane proved to be very adaptable to airline needs, and Boeing was quick to customize new models of the basic airplane to meet specific requirements for freighters, convertibles (freighter/passenger combinations), long range, or high density.
The Boeing 747 also served well in the military role, as the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, as Air Force One, and soon, as the platform for an antiballistic missile laser system -- the ABL. More than 1,200 747s have been built, and it will be in production for many years to come.
The basic soundness of the design has enabled it to be improved and enlarged over time so that the current Boeing 747-400 can carry up to 524 passengers over distances as far as 8,400 miles. With new, fuel-efficient engines and a two-pilot digital flight deck, the 747-400 has the lowest operating cost per seat mile of any commercial jetliner. As might be expected, the cost of the 747 has climbed over time, from original estimates of $18 million per copy to $25 million to more than $200 million today.
The only way that the manufacturer of an airplane costing $200 million dollars can earn money for its stockholders is for the aircraft to be so reliable that it can fly 16 and more hours per day; the Boeing 747 is capable of that. One amazing aspect of the jet revolution is that jet engines are so reliable that corrosion is a greater problem than wear as a determinate of engine life.
Once virtually unchallenged in the marketplace, Boeing and the 747 are facing increasing competition from Europe's Airbus Industrie, which is planning a large aircraft with a 1,000-passenger capacity. Boeing will respond with a larger version of this classic airplane, confident that the plane's cost and performance will allow it to retain its position as the world's premier large airliner.