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Boeing's 747 descends closer to retirement

After flying more than 50 of the jumbo jets for almost fifty years, Qantas will retire the last of its Boeing 747s by 2020.

Qantas's colorful 747-400 "Wunala Dreaming"

Delta, United and Cathay Pacific. They've all retired the Boeing 747 over the last year and a half. And today, one of the aircraft's most loyal customers said it would join them in permanently landing the last of its jumbo jets.

Australia's Qantas said it would retire its last 10 747-400s by 2020, largely replacing them with six additional orders for the Boeing 787-9. The first of the airline's last 747s will leave the fleet this July with the rest following gradually over the next two years.

"This really is the end of one era and the start of another," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement. "The jumbo has been the backbone of Qantas International for more than 40 years and we've flown almost every type that Boeing built."

Since Qantas took delivery of its first 747-200 in 1971, the airline has flown more than 50 of the double-deck airliners in almost all variants, including the 747SP and the wonderfully-painted 747-400, "Wunala Dreaming." The 747's long range and large passenger capacity was well suited for Qantas's lengthy routes from Australia to, well, pretty much everywhere.

Though the 787 is smaller than the 747 (236 seats vs 364), lower fuel and maintenance costs make it cheaper to operate and it has an even longer range than its older sibling. In March, Qantas started flying the 787-9 on its new 17-hour nonstop flight between Perth, Australia and London.

If you want to squeeze in a 747 flight, you still have some more time. British Airways still operates 36 747s and Virgin Atlantic, Thai Airways, KLM, Qantas and Lufthansa are keeping a few in the air for the next couple of years at least. Alternatively, you can experience the newer 747-8 on Lufthansa, Air China and Korean Air.