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The Boeing 747 has been around for over 30 years but still seems every bit as big as the day it first took to the skies. It represents a quantum jump in the development of civil aircraft, one that revolutionised the way we fly today and the way we accept better prices, service and safety than could have been dreamed of in the early years of jet aircraft.

The fact that the Boeing 747 was developed at all is a remarkable testament to the courage and self-belief of a small group of brilliant engineers, all of whom were willing to risk their hard-won reputation by building an aircraft that was so totally different to anything previously offered to the airlines. Its acceptance for production go-ahead was also a notable example of corporate courage- because many problems lay ahead and there was an enormous amount at stake: had the aircraft not sold in very considerable numbers, the continuation of Boeing itself might have been at risk.

Although the theoretical operatingprofits from a 747-sized airliner were highly seductive, they were only theoretical. Before any profits could be made at all, a huge investment package had to be put together to fund not only the most expensive airliners of all time, but also the wide-ranging changes to basic intrastructure that would be needed make their operations possible. No airline in the world, for example, had passenger steps that were capable of reaching the doors of a 747; or baggage-handling equipment that could operate on such a heroic scale; the maintanace engineers did not have a single hangar bay that could house the aircraft, or the staging needed to reach the outer limits of the structure; the capacity of toilet-servicing units all over the world would have to be at least doubled. The arrival of the 747 on presign routes was going to massively increase the scale of everything virtually overnight and global changes of this magnitude do not come cheaply.

Most of the major airports of the world would also need a significant amount of investment to accommodate even a small number of 747's. Existing hardstanding areas, terminal buildings and pier layouts were all based on the length, wingspan and turning-circle of the then current generation of jets; in some cases even the pavement weight-bearing strength was already close to its safe limit. The anticipated gradual evolution of aircraft had generally played an umportant role in the planning of airport facilities, but the impending operational arrival of 747 suddenlypresented a whole new set of problems- the burden of which would depend largely on the commercial success of the aircraft.

As we know today, Boeing handled the problems brilliantly; today we accept flying and commercial aircraft as commonplace, and much of that is down to Boeing and the 747.

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