By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – It’s not often that a 400,000-pound jumbo jet does a couple of flyovers, but that’s exactly what a hulking Boeing 747 did Thursday over Tupelo Regional Airport.
The plane belonged to All Nippon Airways of Japan, which retired the last of its nearly 50 samples of the iconic aircraft.
“The first 747 we first purchased 35 years ago,” said Keijiro Ota, deputy director of marketing and sales planning for ANA. “This is the very last of its kind for our airline.”
Designated JA8961, the widebody passenger jet landed without a hitch. As it made its way down the runway, a pair of Tupelo Fire Department trucks sprayed water in the air, a symbolic salute. The plane then made its way to Universal Asset Management, where it will be disassembled, its valuable engines and other parts sold and used in other 747s around the world.
A small contingent of ANA officials, joined by airport and city leaders, marked the occasion Thursday with an official retirement ceremony.
Two weeks ago, when JA8962 made its final flight from Okinawa to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, the plane was packed with 500 passengers. Thousands of people reportedly lined the streets to bid farewell to the plane.
A small portion of that devoted following came to Tupelo, taking plenty of photos as they toured the plane.
Among the well-wishers were 27 tourists from Japan, who paid as much as $8,000 to fly to the U.S., spend two nights in Tupelo and take part in the ceremony.
It’s not the first ANA plane to land in Tupelo.
UAM, which opened its Tupelo disassembly operations in 2012, has worked with ANA for the past four years. It has taken 10 of the company’s planes during that time.
“We’re honored to be part of this milestone for the 747, ANA and Japan,” said UAM Chief Executive Officer Keri Wright, who later gave ANA officials paintings of the plane that were made on other retired ANA 747 plane parts.
In addition, Mayor Jason Shelton gave ANA officals a key to the city.