BA is retiring its whole fleet of 747s (lots used to use Heathrow) due to the Covid fall in air travel

British Airways has said it will retire, with immediate effect, all of its Boeing 747s as air travel demand has fallen so much due to Covid – and it may never recover to be how it was before. BA has 31 jumbo jets, which make up about 10% of the BA fleet.  It had planned on retiring the planes in 2024 but has brought forward the date.  There are about 500 747s still in service, of which 30 are still flying passengers. More than 300 fly cargo. The rest are in storage. The four-engined 747s are not fuel efficient, so cost a lot to run – and emit a lot of carbon. They are very noisy, causing noise nuisance to millions living under fight paths near airports. Even before Covid, Air France, Delta and United had already retired their 747 fleets. With expected lower air travel for years, even if a vaccine is found fairly soon, airlines need to save money, and 747s are more expensive to run than 2-engined planes. It will also be difficult to fill them up. They depend on the hub model of airports, and are less suited to the more popular point to point sort of air travel.  With the end of 747s and A380s, much of the rationale for Heathrow expansion ends. Unfortunately, it is due to the 747s in the 1970s making air travel cheaper, that brought in the era of cheap, readily available air travel – with its environmental costs.



British Airways retires entire 747 fleet after travel downturn

17.7.2020 (BBC)

British Airways has said it will retire all of its Boeing 747s as it suffers from the sharp travel downturn.

The UK airline is the world’s largest operator of the jumbo jets, with 31 in the fleet.

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect,” a BA spokesman told the BBC.

Airlines across the world have been hit hard by coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

“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,” the spokesman added.

BA, which is owned by International Airlines Group (IAG), said the planes will all be retired with immediate effect. The 747s represent about 10% of BA’s total fleet.

It had planned on retiring the planes in 2024 but has brought forward the date due to the downturn.

According to travel data firm Cirium there are about 500 747s still in service, of which 30 are actively flying passengers. More than 300 fly cargo and the remainder are in storage.

Presentational grey line

A luxury BA could no longer afford

Analysis box by Theo Leggett, business correspondent

The Boeing 747 is beautiful, distinctive and has half a century of proud service behind it. But – as a passenger plane at least – it is also quite simply outdated.

A four-engine aircraft, it is far less efficient than modern twin-engine models, such as the Airbus A350, the 787 Dreamliner, or even the older Boeing 777 – all of which are cheaper to run.

Before the Covid-19 crisis, the writing was on the wall. Airlines such as Air France, Delta and United had already retired their fleets.

BA had planned to use them for another few years. But the crisis in the industry means a future in which there will be fewer passengers, fewer planes – and keeping costs down will be crucial.

So now the airline has decided the queen of the skies is a luxury it can no longer afford. 

British Airways’ predecessor BOAC first started flying 747s in the early 1970s. BA is currently flying the 747-400 version of the long-range aircraft.

It is currently the world’s biggest operator of 747-400s and first took delivery of them in July 1989. Originally, the upper deck contained a lounge which was known as the “club in the sky”.

The British carrier added it would operate more flights on modern, more fuel-efficient planes such as its new Airbus A350s and Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

It expects them to help it achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Boeing’s 747 helped democratise global air travel in the 1970s, and marked its 50-year flying anniversary in February 2019.

US-based Boeing signalled the end of the plane’s production a year ago.

A wave of restructuring triggered by the virus outbreak is hitting airlines across the world, along with plane-makers and their suppliers. Thousands of job losses and furloughs have been announced in recent weeks.

Hundreds of BA ground staff face redundancy as the airline slashes costs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Presentational grey line

Boeing’s ‘queen of the skies’

  • The first Boeing 747 flight took place in February 1969
  • It was the first aeroplane dubbed a “jumbo jet”
  • BOAC, British Airways’ predecessor, operated its first 747 flight, flying from London to New York, in 1971
  • At its height, BA had a fleet of 57 747-400s, second only to Japan Airlines (more than 100)
  • The wings of a 747-400 span 213ft and are big enough to accommodate 50 parked cars
Presentational grey line

What happens to retired planes?

Specialist companies assess whether aircraft should be salvaged or scrapped. Often they are dismantled and their parts sold on for scrap or recycled. Most of the value is in the engines.

Many are also stripped out as they have valuable interiors. In some cases, private individuals and entrepreneurs buy old airliners to convert them into hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions.

Those that are scrapped can end up in giant aircraft graveyards in the desert where they are left to rust.



Jumbo jet first flew for BA in 1971 but is now surplus to requirements

By Simon CalderTravel Correspondent (The Independent)


The latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic is the most iconic aircraft in the British Airways fleet: the Boeing 747.

BA has written to staff to say that the distinctive plane it calls “our Queen of the Skies” will not fly passengers again.

The letter says: “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.”

The airline has flown the Jumbo jet from its Heathrow airport base since 1971. Before the coronavirus crisis BA was the world’s biggest operator of the aircraft type.

British Airways used the plane on key US routes, including Boston, Miami, New York JFK and San Francisco, as well as Beijing, Cape Town, Mexico City and Toronto.

BA is the world’s largest operator of the aircraft, with 32 in its fleet before aviation went into its deepest crisis in history.

All were built in the 20th century, with one – currently decorated in BA’s “Landor livery” – dating back to 1993.

British Airways had planned to keep the four-engine jet in service until 2024. Its much-refreshed cabins were popular with premium passengers on what used to be the world’s most profitable route, from London Heathrow to New York JFK.

A special “Hi-J” version with 86 business-class seats reduced the passenger payload to just 275, compared with 455 aboard the same plane on Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin has already announced its smaller fleet of Jumbo jets will not fly again.

The 747 was the planet’s prime people-mover for half a century. Until the Airbus A380 entered service in 2007, it was by far the biggest passenger plane: 232 feet long with a wingspan of 211 feet and a height of 69 feet.

British Airways says: “The world’s 747 fleet has flown 3.5 billion people – the equivalent of half of the world’s population.

The letter, written in response to “speculation on social media and aviation websites” says: “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.”

“The bulk of our fleet is large, wide-bodied, long haul aircraft with many premium seats, intended to carry high volumes of customers.”

While the voracious fuel burn of the Boeing 747 is less relevant with oil prices low, maintenance costs are high.

The plane faces increasing environmental penalties, with Heathrow airport seeking “to phase out ageing fleet types such as 747”.

Some British Airways 747s are currently at Heathrow, with others stored at Cardiff airport and Teruel in central Spain.

BA’s main long-haul aircraft is now the Boeing 777, though it also has Airbus A350 and A380 jets.