Ask The Captain: Why are 747 aircraft still popular as freighters but not for passenger service?

Question: Why have 747 aircraft disappeared from passenger service but are still very popular as freighters?

– VS

Answer: The 747 can carry a large amount of freight, plus it has great range. The high operating cost is acceptable due to the revenue from the amount of freight (revenue per pound). Passenger flights do not produce the same amount of revenue per pound, hence the cost of operating a 747 can be uneconomical for passenger service but cost-effective for freight. 

Q: When aircraft are taxiing, are there motors that assist, or is the plane moved only by engine thrust? And how is it steered?

– W. Bloodgood

A: Today, airplanes taxi exclusively on engine thrust. There are tests underway for electric tugs that would tow aircraft to the runway, but they are not in service.

Ground steering is done with the steerable nose wheel. On larger airplanes, there is a nose wheel steering wheel to the left of the captain (a few airplanes have a nose wheel steering wheel on the right side, too). This wheel is sometime referred to as the tiller. 

The captain is the person who maneuvers the airplane on the ground. He or she carefully keeps the airplane aligned on the taxiways, runway and gate areas. Because of the size of large airplanes, the greatest concern is the inside wheel during a turn, as it is easy to turn early causing the inside wheel to track off the taxiway. 

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.

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