British Airways retires 747 fleet due to pandemic
By Neil Lancefield and Alexander Britton, PA
British Airways has retired its fleet of Boeing 747s with immediate effect.
The airline was the world’s biggest operator of the 747-400 model.
It was planning to ground its fleet of 31 jumbo jets in 2024 but the end has been hastened by coronavirus.
The company said: “It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect.
“It is unlikely our magnificent ‘queen of the skies’ will ever operate commercial services for British Airways again due to the downturn in travel caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic.
“While the aircraft will always have a special place in our heart, as we head into the future we will be operating more flights on modern, fuel-efficient aircraft such as our new A350s and 787s, to help us achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
British Airways’ 747-400s have a capacity of 345 passengers and can reach a top speed of 614mph.
It used them for flights to destinations in China, the US, Canada and Africa.
Aviation consultant John Strickland told the PA news agency that the lack of demand for transatlantic travel has hastened the demise of the 747.
He said: “The US market doesn’t really exist at the moment. That’s where BA substantially deploys its 747 fleet.
“Without the US peak summer programme operating and with winter being leaner, it was already looking like this fleet was going to be on the ground for quite some time.”
Mr Strickland said industry forecasts indicate passenger demand may not return to pre-pandemic levels until between 2023 and 2025.
“That was the timescale the 747s were going to be gone anyway,” he added.
British Airways’ predecessor BOAC first used the jumbo jets in 1971.
The 747 was the world’s first wide-bodied jet.
More than 1,500 have been produced by Boeing, and it has historically been a commercial success for the manufacturer and the airlines.
But Bloomberg reported earlier this month that, after more than 50 years of service, Boeing plans to end production of the jumbo jets in around two years due to airlines turning to smaller planes that burn less fuel for long-haul flights.
Just 30 of the planes were in service as of Tuesday with a further 132 in storage, according to aviation data firm Cirium.
The US’s presidential aircraft fleet includes two identical jets which are modified versions of the 747.
The planes – known as Air Force One when the president is flying on them – are being replaced by two new aircraft, which will also be variants of the jumbo jet.
Mr Strickland said: “The economics of this larger plane meant it was possible to offer lower fares to customers.
“It really expanded the ability of the general public worldwide to travel.”
UK airlines have struggled to cope with the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus crisis, with British Airways, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic all announcing job cuts and reduced operations.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is among more than 100 MPs supporting a campaign by union Unite for British Airways to lose some of its lucrative slots at Heathrow due to the treatment of its workforce.
Unite has accused the company of planning a “fire and rehire” system which will involve remaining employees having their terms and conditions downgraded.
The airline has insisted its proposals have been put forward with a view to consultation, adding that no decisions have been taken with regard to actual redundancies.