British Airways scrapping entire 747 fleet amid virus downturn


British Airways’ iconic 747 jumbo jet will no longer be operated by the airline after it decided to retire its entire fleet with immediate effect.

BA has used the famous Boeing plane since 1989 and is currently the world’s biggest operator of the 747-400 model.

A British Airways Boeing 747 aircraft prepares to land at London Heathrow Airport. File pic
The Boeing plane is one of the air industry’s most iconic designs

It was planning to retire the fleet of 31 aircraft in 2024 but its end has been hastened by the coronavirus lockdown, which has forced long-haul air travel to almost grind to a halt.

The decision marks the end of an era for the double-decker jumbo within UK airlines, given that Virgin Atlantic had already announced it was to scrap its remaining 747s.

BA operated the plane, powered to a top speed of 614mph by four Rolls-Royce engines, to destinations in China, the US, Canada and Africa.

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The company said: “It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect.

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“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.”

A 747 flies low over homes in West London before landing at Heathrow
A 747 flies low over homes in west London before landing at Heathrow

Sky News revealed earlier this month how pilots’ union, BALPA, had reached a deal with BA over proposed job cuts and changes to pay and conditions in the wake of the airline’s warning that 12,000 jobs across were at risk.

It is understood that any potential impact on jobs from the retiring of the “queen of the skies” would be subject to consultation and discussions with the union.

The airline told staff in a letter seen by Sky News: “The unofficial flagship of our fleet… 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.”

A first class cabin on one of the early 747s
A first class cabin on one of the early 747s

BA does not foresee 2019 levels of travel demand returning until 2023.

Figures for June show the increase in air travel following the easing of coronavirus restrictions has been slower than anticipated.

A 747 lands at Heathrow in 2006
A 747 lands at Heathrow in 2006

Passenger traffic across European airports last month was down 93% compared with June 2019.

This was an improvement on the 98% year-on-year decline recorded in May, but highlights how far the industry has to go to recover from the pandemic.

Pilot Dave Wallsworth called the plane an “icon” on Twitter.

“An aviation icon and the aircraft most pilots grew up wanting to fly. A few hours ago @British_Airways announced the retirement of the @Boeing 747-400. A favourite with pilots and cabin crew and, along with Concorde, the most recognisable aircraft in the world. “The Queen” #QOTS,” he tweeted.

This 747 was painted in the airline's predecessor British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery to mark British Airways' centenary in 2019
This 747 was painted in the airline’s predecessor British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery to mark British Airways’ centenary in 2019

Qantas Airlines is also retiring its fleet of 747s after 50 years of helping Australians see the world.

Plane enthusiasts watched from Canberra Airport as the final aircraft flew a victory lap before it flies from Sydney to California’s Mojave desert on Wednesday to be kept in storage.

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