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A British Airways Boeing 747-400 on short final in Los Angeles (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

British Airways Announces Immediate Retirement of 747 Fleet

British Airway has announced that it will immediately retire its Boeing 747 fleet following the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. The airline was forced to store all of its 28 747-400s due to reduced demand in the midst of the respiratory disease pandemic.

In a letter sent out to all BA employees, the airline believes that the 747s are unsustainable for the new aviation industry post-pandemic and will look to accelerate the retirement of the twin-deckers. Most of the airline’s 747s were scheduled to be phased out progressively by early 2024. The interiors of its 747s had recently been refurbished as part of a billion-pound upgrade program to help extend the lifespan of the fleet. Yet, the ongoing aviation crisis forced the flag carrier to retire its twin-deckers immediately.

The announcement comes as no real surprise as airlines across the world re-think their fleet strategy regarding quad-jet aircraft. KLM also retired its 747 fleet from passenger operations, making the decision right at the beginning of the crisis.

“With much regret, we are proposing, subject to consultation, the immediate retirement of our Queen of the Skies, the 747-400. We know there is speculation on social media and aviation websites, so we wanted to make our position clear,” the airline told its staff in a letter seen by AirlineGeeks.

This will mark a milestone for the airline as the era of jumbo will end when the affectionately-nicknamed ‘Queen of the Skies’ ceasing operations for British Airways after a 51-year long association. The airline had tremendous success with the Boeing 747 since it entered service, operating its 747s as the flagship aircraft of its long-haul fleet.

BA has operated the iconic super-jumbos since 1971 with the 747-100. Its first 747-400, registered G-BNLC, arrived in July 1989 and in total British Airways would have operated the -100, -300 and -400 version. All in all, 105 hulls of the 747 was used by the airline. In relation to the -400 that will now disappear from the skies above Britian, Boeing delivered its last 747 for the airline, G-BYGG, in April 1999. But after more than 50 years in the skies with British Airways livery, it has fallen from favor as the airline started to opt for smaller and more cost-effective aircraft like Boeing’s 787 and the Airbus A350, of which crew on either of these fleets are confirmed to be safe from potential redundancies in the near future.

They are an airliner of another era, however, and they burn far more fuel than the latest generation of planes and, logically, require more frequent and detailed attention from our engineering team, according to British Airways.

British Airways was preparing to return the 747s to service as demand continues to rise. However, as the demand for travel does not seem to be returning to the pre-pandemic levels quickly, the company has given up the idea of operating four-engine aircraft. The double-decker was designed to carry high volumes of passengers, but flight restrictions and novel coronavirus fear continue to prevent people from traveling.

“The whole airline community is reconciling itself to a bleak outlook for passenger demand. Long haul travel will take years to recover, with the major industry bodies agreeing that we will not see a return to 2019 levels until 2023 at the soonest,” underlined the airline.

The abrupt retirement of the super-jumbo will be very emotional for the airline and aviation community.

“The unofficial flagship of our fleet, the 747-400 has a very special place in the hearts of aviation enthusiasts and of many of us. We know how many memories of this extra-special aircraft are shared across the BA family and our proposal to retire the fleet early has only been taken in response to the crisis we find ourselves in” continued the letter.

Relying on high passenger volumes and high demand for premium travel, the 747s have become commercially unviable to operate particularly during the current aviation crisis.

 

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