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1970: Heathrow welcomes first 'jumbo jet'

The first jumbo jet carrying fare-paying passengers has arrived at Heathrow airport.

The newly-constructed Boeing 747, Pan Am Flight Two, touched down at Heathrow at 1414GMT today - seven hours late due to technical problems.

The jumbo had brought 324 passengers across the Atlantic from New York to London.

But the return journey to New York did not run so smoothly. Thirty-six of the 153 passengers transferred to other flights after a faulty compressed air bottle, used to blow open the plane's door in an emergency, meant take-off was delayed for four-and-a-half hours at Heathrow.

Safety concerns

This was not the first problem experienced by the 350-ton aircraft during the run-up to its launch into commercial service.

In October 1969 it was revealed there were developmental problems with the Pratt and Whitney JT 9D engines used to power the aircraft, and there were fears the project would be scrapped.

However, Pan Am was confident the problem could be overcome and the jumbo was safe, so production continued.

The previous year there had been concerns about the safety of passengers in an emergency and the logistics of evacuating large numbers of people from the aircraft in a short space of time.

As a result every jumbo jet was fitted with four inflatable chutes down which 80 passengers a minute could slide in an emergency.

But in spite of these problems it is thought the 360-seat 747, now the largest aeroplane on the market, will herald the dawn of a new era in long-distance air travel for a huge number of travellers.

With operating costs dramatically reduced and larger passenger capacity, more people will be able to afford to travel further afield. Travel experts predict that long-distance package holidays will now become more popular.

Pan Am is the first airline to fly the newly-constructed jumbo jet on a commercial basis, having purchased 25 aircraft at a cost of 187m last year.

The British Overseas Airways Corporation (Boac) have placed an order for 11 jumbos but a current pay dispute by the British Air Line Pilots Association (Balpa) is delaying its introduction into service in the UK.

Heathrow has undergone an 11m refurbishment to accommodate the new aeroplanes and the huge influx of passengers that is expected.

In Context
Within six months of its launch the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet had carried a million passengers.

A year after its launch nearly 100 jumbo jets were being operated by 17 airlines and the number of passengers had increased to seven million.

The safety record of the Boeing 747 has been good and although it has been involved in several accidents none has been directly attributable to a fault with the aircraft.

The Boeing 747 has dominated the airline world for the past 30 years and has remained the largest passenger aircraft in existence.

However, it was beaten in size by the Airbus A380 which seats between 555 and 840 passengers and went into production in May 2004 in Toulouse, France.

It made its UK debut on 18 May 2006 when it landed at Heathrow from Berlin.


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