TOKYO -- Boeing said on Wednesday that it is weighing a decision to end production of the 747 jetliner.
The U.S. aircraft-maker is responding to a trend in the industry away from large jets like the 747 toward small and midsize planes that are more fuel efficient and suitable for the needs of airlines, especially the growing ranks of budget carriers.
Boeing's decision to stop manufacturing the 747 would close a chapter in the history of civil aviation. Since it came into commercial service in 1970, the iconic aircraft has been a fixture in the global air travel scene.
The 747, which can accommodate more than 500 seats, has been supporting rapid growth in air passenger traffic for nearly half a century.
Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways once adopted the 747 as the flagship of their fleets. But both airlines stopped using the four-engine aircraft as a passenger jet by the end of 2014, replacing it with more fuel-efficient planes like the 777.
During the Farnborough International Air Show in London, held earlier this month, Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg said the company will reduce production of the 747 from the current pace of one plane per month to 0.5, starting in September.
In a document submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday, Boeing said it could decide to pull the plug on the 747 program "if we are unable to obtain sufficient orders."
The 747 is still popular among governments around the world as their official aircraft. The U.S. Air Force aircraft for carrying the president, known for its air traffic control call sign of Air Force One, is the 747, as is the Japanese government's official plane.
The 747 doubles as a cargo jet, but the outlook of demand for the plane is unclear.
There has been an accelerating shift in the global aircraft market toward smaller and more cost-efficient jetliners, such as the 737B and the 787B. The trend has been driven partly by a sharp increase in the number of budget carriers in recent years.
Many budget airlines mainly operate short- or medium-haul flights. These carriers develop flight plans on the assumption that operating several small and midsize planes to offer services in various time zones and meet the needs of a wide range of passengers makes greater economic sense than flying one large aircraft that can carry many passengers.
Changes in the air travel market have created strong headwinds for the jumbo jet.
Many of the parts for the 747 are supplied by reputed makers in countries across the world. But these suppliers have been adjusting their product strategies to the changing industrial landscape and are already preparing themselves for an eventual end to production of the 747.