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Goodbye ‘Queen of the Skies’. British Airways is to retire its ENTIRE Boeing 747 fleet.

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British Airways sent an email to staff late last night confirming its plans to retire its entire fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft.  It had 30 aircraft in its fleet prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Whilst there has been a lot of speculation online regarding the future of the Boeing 747 fleet at British Airways, the airline has until now been fairly tight-lipped in regard to its future fleet intentions. It has now confirmed:

“With much regret, we are proposing, subject to consultation, the immediate retirement of our Queen of the Skies, the 747-400.”

BA 747 retirement

The original retirement plan was to phase the Boeing 747 out by 2024.  British Airways now wants to accelerate the program and retire the entire fleet in the coming months.

In its email it stated that:

“we would not expect any more commercial flights to be flown.”

The airline has carefully worded its statement, repeating that this decision is ‘subject to consultation’.  Don’t get your hopes up though – this is a legal procedure to ensure that pilots and dedicated Boeing 747 support staff who are now likely to lose their jobs are treated according to UK employment law.  Retiring the entire fleet this early suggests that a lot of staff will require re-deployment and training on other aircraft in the future.

End of an era

Retiring the Boeing 747 doesn’t come as a surprise. In its statement, British Airways called the model “true icons” but an “airliner from another era.”

Aircraft technology has come a long way since 1999, when BA received its last 747 delivery. Both the A350 and Boeing 787 offer substantially better fuel efficiency. According to a study of aircraft efficiency on transatlantic routes by the International Council on Clean Transportation, latest generation aircraft are around 50% more efficient than the 747-400 on a passenger-kilometre basis.

This is compounded by the fact that older aircraft need increasingly extensive maintenance programs to keep them flying safely. Whilst the economics made sense during years of passenger growth, air traffic isn’t expected to return to 2019 levels until 2023 at the earliest, at which point the majority of the fleet would already have been scrapped.

This isn’t the end of the Boeing 747 programme.  A small number of airlines are flying the newer Boeing 747-8i which has a longer top deck, although you rarely see them as Lufthansa was the only European airline to buy it.  It continues to be a successful cargo aircraft due to the large amount of storage space it offers, and it is possible that parts of the British Airways fleet will be sold to cargo operators.  Part of the reason that A380 aircraft are being retired so early is that the cargo capacity is surprisingly small, and at present cargo is a high passenger of revenue for most airlines.

What this means for Club Suite

British Airways was in the middle of a refurbishment program on the 747 to extend its life to 2024. Whilst the aircraft were never destined to have the new Club Suite business class seat installed, a lot of money was spent on making sure that they were outfitted with up-to-date interiors.

The rollout of Club Suite as a proportion of the fleet is now likely to accelerate.  Not because more Club Suites are being made – there is a bottle neck on manufacturing capacity – but because removal of such a large Club World sub-fleet will increase the total percentage of Club Suite fitted aircraft remaining.

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Comments (112)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Simon Pickup says:

    There’s nothing to me quite like the ride in a Jumbo. Those smooth oscillations through turbulence are something I miss and may never experience again.

  • Craig says:

    I just managed to sneak in and experience this magnificent aircraft in F although I had flown on her before…
    Flew BA First LHR-YVR end of February and back early March, fabulous crew, fabulous food and fabulous experience.
    Missed out on the upper deck when booked CW return to LAS in October 2018 but so happy to have experienced F.
    In awe of the pilots and crew who flew this wonderful aircraft, a piece of aviation history sadly heading for the history books 😔

  • C77 says:

    So many fond and interesting memories of the BA Queens of the Skies which began for me with the Landor livery and a 747-200 from Gatwick to Antigua in 1995. The return sector was operated by G-BDXH which I later found out was the aircraft that inadvertently flew into volcanic ash over Java in 1982 and lost all engine power.

    A few years later I was flying back from Hong Kong and the second officer of the Java incident was now our Captain on our flight back to Heathrow – this time though on a 747-400.

    Another notable flight for me was to Johannesburg that resulted in a mid-flight turn around somewhere over Algeria. Nothing immediately serious but a maintenance repair would have been required upon arrival that wasn’t possible due to industrial strikes with the outsourced maintenance in Jo’burg so the decision was made to return to base and a 6hr flight to nowhere. Upon arrival at 1am we were all bussed over to the Radisson for the best part of 15hrs before doing the trip all over again.

    Over the years I’ve managed to fly in all 4 cabins of the BA 747 from the much coveted 1A all the way back to 48H and up to the dizzy heights of 62K: Antigua, Barbados, New York JFK, Miami, Phoenix, Hong Kong, Dubai, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

    The most thrilling experience for me was a very generous 40th birthday present where I took to the right hand seat and took control in of one of the BA flight simulators at Cranebank, Heathrow from a full take off, landing and parking at LHR to take off and stall recovery over San Francisco bay and traffic avoidance manoeuvres over St Albans! All very treasured memories for be of these beautiful iconic aircraft.

    Yes they were rough and jaded in places and could have done with a bloody good clean especially in recent years but they were a good solid ride for the most part. But for me what I’ll always remember are the 3 dual chimes prior to takeoff (unique to the 747 fleet) and the Rolls Royce engines spooling up to take off power.

    Thanks for the memories, it has been a privilege.

  • BP says:

    Mixed feelings about this. Flown on the 747 LHR-LAS a few times and Upper deck is great but let’s face it, overall they are a bit old and knackered. Was supposed to be on it again next Jan and had manage to reserve nice seats upstairs. Anyone have any ideas what they will replace the 747 with for the Heathrow to Vegas flights?

  • Julie says:

    BA has been using the 747s on their Heathrow to San Diego flights. I have a award flight booked in First from LHR to SAN in December 2020 and return booked in Club World in early January 2021.
    I paid to reserve an upper deck seat on the January flight.
    BA is still showing these flight as using the 747s.
    When do you think we will find out the replacement aircraft they are going to use on these flights?
    And if it is a plane without first class will there be a partial redeposit of avios? fpr the December flight.

    In the past they have also used 777s on this roujte besides the 747s.

    • Rob says:

      Realistically the aircraft could change numerous times between now and December, if indeed the flight goes at all. You are more likely to get Club Suite now – simply because the % of aircraft with Club Suite has now jumped – so I’d use any excuse possible to get a refund of your seat reservation fee.

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