Aviation United to operate final 747 flight in 2017 By Robert Silk / January 11, 2017 Share 1 -- United has pushed forward the retirement date of its final Boeing 747 from the end of 2018 to the fourth quarter of this year, company president Scott Kirby has informed airline employees. "It's a bittersweet milestone -- this jumbo jet with its unmistakable silhouette once represented the state-of-the-art in air travel," Kirby wrote in a letter to employees Wednesday. "Today, there are more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable widebody aircraft that provide an updated inflight experience for our customers traveling on long-haul flights." United has flown 747s since 1970. But in recent years, the iconic four-engine jumbo jet has lost out on long-range routes to smaller and more fuel-efficient two-engine widebodies, including Boeing's latest generation 787 Dreamliner and its Airbus counterpart, the A350. Boeing is producing just six 747s per year and last July warned that production could stop entirely if orders don't pick up. United currently flies 20 747s. The remainder of its widebody fleet is made up of 30 Boeing 787s, 51 Boeing 767s and 75 Boeing 777s.Kirby wrote that United would stage an "unforgettable retirement celebration" in conjunction with its last 747 flight.