MANILA - The last B747 flight of flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) bowed out of service early Monday, landing at 3:30 a.m. into the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 (NAIA 2) tarmac. It was greeted with an ice-bucket challenge, a water-cannon salute of hundreds of gallons of water from two airport fire trucks.
Five of the Boeing 747-400, the flagship aircraft used by PAL for 35 years starting 1979, were sold to an American buyer. They would be replaced by six modern B777s to ply the Pacific routes on the way to the US mainland, PAL Spokesman Cielo Villaluna said.
Capt. Andre de Jesus, a former Philippine Air Force (PAF) pilot, was at the controls when the plane rolled into the Naia 2 tarmac.
The flight deck crew included first officer Thor Causapin and second officers Arick Garcia and John Ramos.
“PAL is switching to another plane and, in my case, I am going to captain an A320, while the rest of my crew will be flying A340s and B777s,” he said as he came out of the cockpit.
A veteran pilot of 20 years, de Jesus has 15,000 flying hours under his belt, starting out with the Marchetti training plane while with the PAF in the 1980s.
He described the B747 as “very reliable, easy to handle.”
“It’s a sturdy plane with four engines so that even if you lost one, you can go on with the flight,” he said.
He said the B777 is an equally efficient and reliable airplane that can continue on its flight even with the loss of one engine and land at an alternate airport chosen ahead of time for a particular route.
Iconic is an apt word to describe the stately Boeing 747, the original jumbo jet, whose capacious cargo cabin gave birth to a Filipino invention, the equally spacious balikbayan box.
The Louis Vuitton of the hoi-polloi, the balikbayan box had gained a special niche in the annals of air travels as it is able to accommodate practically everything sent by a Filipino relative in America and brought back to the home country as gifts or personal possessions.
PAL first flew the B747 in 1979, and became the carrier’s new flagship as it offered a one-of-a-kind product—16 bunk beds called “Skybeds” that were paired with “first-class” seats on the upper deck. This feature made PAL a popular choice for long-haul flights.
The 419-seat plane had flown to Europe, North America and Australia.
Monday’s flight left San Francisco at 10:30 p.m., Pacific time, with 324 passengers, 32 in the business class and 292 in economy.
PAL joins other carriers such as Eva Airways and Cathay Pacific in retiring the venerable aircraft.
Due to the size of the aircraft, the Manila International Airport and other major domestic airports had to make modifications to the passenger terminals to accommodate the huge B747.
The first B747-200 was delivered from Seattle in December 1979. Its first commercial flight before flying to the US was to bring revelers to the Sinulog festival in Cebu in January 1980.
The B747s were used on presidential flights, flying all Philippine presidents starting with Ferdinand Marcos, on state visits abroad.
With the arrival of the first B747 series 400 in 1993, PAL was able to fly nonstop to North America, skipping the stopover in Honolulu for refueling.
Delivery flight of the first B747-400 carried former President Fidel V. Ramos, who attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Seattle and first landed in Subic before proceeding to Manila.
Other famous personalities—from Hollywood stars to beauty queens to heads of states —flew on PAL’s B747. PAL once acceded to a request for a marriage proposal inflight.