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Why Boeing Is Buying Up Older 747s

To sell new jumbo jets, it’s become the No. 1 buyer of older 747s
The nose of a Boeing 747
The nose of a Boeing 747Photograph by Jens Goerlich

Auto dealers have long been willing to take an old clunker off a potential buyer’s hands in order to clinch a sale of a shiny new model. Now airplane makers are following suit. Boeing is acquiring previous versions of the 747 from airlines ordering its new, tough-to-sell 747-8. Of the 19 older 747s that have changed hands so far this year, Boeing has snapped up seven, according to data compiled by Ascend Online Fleets. That makes it the biggest buyer of the used jets in 2013.

While the purchases put Boeing on the hook for finding new operators, it helps nurture demand for the newer 747-8—among a class of fuel-thirsty four-engine aircraft that airlines frown upon these days. New sales are pivotal to keeping 747 assembly lines humming as Boeing slows output 13 percent to 1.75 planes a month and stashes some unsold 747-8s in desert storage. “It unloads a problem [from airlines] to Boeing,” says Douglas Kelly, senior vice president for asset valuation at aviation consultant Avitas. “It’s just like trading in your car.”