The last passenger 747 to land at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is aiming to take a farewell lap when it arrives early Wednesday afternoon.
Delta Air Lines, airport and federal aviation authorities have arranged for the plane, charter Flight 9771 from Atlanta, to fly a circle around the airport at just 2,000 feet above the ground, depending on weather and air traffic.
The plane is scheduled to land at 12:45 p.m., but is likely to be in the vicinity around 12:30. It will pull up to Terminal 1 to unload its passengers, mainly Delta employees.
Another 747 will also land at MSP Wednesday after dark, but its arrival time has not been made public. It will park at the airline’s 747 maintenance hangar on the airport’s southwest corner near I-494 and the Mall of America.
Delta acquired its 747 fleet through its 2008 purchase of Minnesota-based Northwest Airlines, which used them since 1970 on international flights, including those flown to and from MSP. The plane anchored Northwest’s Pacific network from the 1980s up until the Delta acquisition and, from MSP, Northwest also used 747s for nonstop flights to London and Amsterdam.
Delta is now replacing the 747 with newer aircraft that are more fuel-efficient.
On Wednesday, the planes are likely to land on the airport’s long south runway 12R/30L. Weather forecasts suggest they will land from the northwest to the southeast, but that will ultimately depend on winds at the time.
For plane spotters and photographers, the higher levels of the Red and Gold parking ramps will provide some of the closest spots to see the planes land. There is also a spot at the end of Cargo Road, between the runways, that will provide a close view, though parking is limited. The public may also use the small parking area on Post Road near the national cemetery.
The plane, which seats nearly 400, was deliberately planned to be full but not to capacity, said Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant. Most of the passengers will be current and retired Delta employees who expressed an interest in the flight, including those who once worked for Northwest. A little more than a dozen people scored a seat by bidding on a Sky Miles Experience.
In-flight festivities will include toasts and a 747-themed trivia contest with prizes. Delta also is using the occasion to help raise funds for the Airloom Project, an effort to preserve the legacy of the 747 — a “majestic heirloom” — through an exhibit that opened last spring in Atlanta.
Delta Air Lines’ chief line pilot Steve Hanlon will captain the last passenger 747 into MSP. “It’s a solemn occasion, a sadness,” Hanlon said. “We don’t want to see it go. We’re not happy about this at all.”
The airline is not quite done with the 747 yet. It will use some of the remaining four to fly charter flights of pro and college football teams to games. The last plane will finish on Jan. 3, when it joins the rest of Delta’s 747 fleet at a “boneyard” in the Arizona desert.