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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.”

British Airways to retire Boeing 747 fleet

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.

British Airways to retire Boeing 747 fleet

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 (113)

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

  • sunguy says:

    Noticed that the flight I had on a 747 for May next year LHR-JFK – currently no longer exists… not sure if they will cancel the flight or replace.

    Hope it’s replace with a new A350……

    • Rhys says:

      Unlikely – no First on A350s and New York is BA’s most important route! You might get a Club Suite refurbished 777 though 🙂

      • Marcw says:

        The obvious decision now is that Syd route looks will be pulled to free up some planes…

        • Rhys says:

          Certainly whilst travel to Australia is limited, yes. I can’t see BA pulling out completely though.

          • Marcw says:

            Why not? Its easier to extend the JV with QR to include SYD and shuttle passengers via DOH.

          • Rhys says:

            Unless it’s losing money BA can use the halo effect of such a route to market flights, Avios, Amex 2-4-1 etc etc. BA isn’t very sentimental but Sydney is definitely a loss-leader if ever I saw one….

          • guesswho2000 says:

            I hope not. They do fifth freedom the SIN-SYD leg too, and it’s pretty well used as far as I can tell.

            It would be a shame, since that’s their only route left here and I have connected onto BA flights to/from SYD myself, despite being able to fly directly MEL-SIN easily enough.

  • Nick_C says:

    Flown back from the US on the super high J a couple of times. I thought they had been refurbished to a really high standard. Shame they will never fly again. My favourite seat was 14A on the main deck, with a view of the engines and unrestricted access.

    For an old plane it was a great experience. Flying has come a long way since my first long haul to LAX on a TWA 747 40 years ago. Fold down movie screens at the front of the cabin and uncomfortable plastic audio tubes that you stuck in your ears. You could barely hear the soundtrack or see the screen.

    But all good things come up an end, and we’ve lost lots of iconic aircraft. I liked the Trident, and the Comet 4. Modern aircraft all look pretty much the same now. Most pax probably don’t even know of they are on a Boeing or an Airbus.

    • Julian says:

      Thank goodness COVID didn’t cause the sudden no notice final retirement of Concorde rather than one with significant notice allowing me to fly from JFK to LHR 9 days before her retirement from commercial service in 2003.

      On the other hand I suppose that without the Paris crash and the desertion of Air France she might have been kept flying until about now but COVID-19 would undoubtedly have proved the final death nell…..

      • Nick_C says:

        One of my regrets is never having flown on concorde. I couldn’t have afforded a full price ticket to NY at that time but the charters were affordable. Never put off till tomorrow…

  • Julian says:

    I was wondering about 777-200s versus 300s and whether they might not also be at least mothballed if not retired completely for the time being.

    However looking at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Airways_fleet it seems that 777-200ERs with 43 aircraft constitute a large chunk of the remaining fleet compared to only twelve 777-300ERs so it seems only the oldest two 777-200s are being axed soon by the end of the year (if not already axed).

    Remaining 747s have already been deleted at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Airways_fleet but how many were there still operating at least prior to the start of COVID in a big way back in March?

    • Rhys says:

      About 30, it’s in the article 😉

      • Julian says:

        Are the 153 747-8s in service worldwide still all likely to continue flying and how many other airlines have already followed BA’s path with retiring the 747-400 series? Virgin for instance still had quite a lot of 747-400s still in service and I always noticed the ones going to Las Vegas (presumably full to the gunnels with luggage for weddings etc) and also ones going to Orlando in the summer holiday season (when they were totally chock full) taking off and doing a 180 degree turn overhead my home 7 miles west of Gatwick Airport. BA 777-200s (I think non ER variants) to Mauritius were also extremely noisy on takeoff from Gatwick.

        I notice all current takeoffs heading over me from Gatwick (literally only 5 or 6 a day until week or so ago) because there are still so few and so look up where they are going but in the main they are extremely quiet compared to normal because they obviously have a lot fewer passengers on board.

        • marcw says:

          But many of these are actually freight planes… so of little value to passengers.

          • Julian says:

            Still 47 8Is (passenger variant) compared to 106 8Fs (freighter version) at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_747-8. Presumably the new Air Force one was deemed as an 8I despite being non standard.

            16 currently shown as On Order at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_747-8 but I suppose some of those may get cancelled if they have not entered the construction phase………

            Anyway the point is it means we are still going to be seeing some kind of 747 in the sky for quite a few more years to come even though they will be comparative rarities.

          • Rhys says:

            47 is not much more than the existing BA fleet! It really will be an endangered species.

          • marcw says:

            There are over 400 747 freighter planes currently flying. So not that endangered.

          • Rhys says:

            Good luck booking a flight on one of those!

          • Julian says:

            Seems odd the economics of freight per mile flown are apparently different from that of carrying passengers. May be its because the freighters don’t fly as much but fly more heavily laden.

            BA’s and Virgin’s 747-400s were all of a certain age and high mileage. Presumably there are some a few years younger and with less miles on the clock that may carry on in service for a while longer.

        • Julian says:

          Some take offs from Gatwick that head south I clearly don’t hear. For instance didn’t notice the Vueling A320 to BCN that took off four minutes ago at all and only knew it was there as I happened to look at flightradar24.com for another reason. Also noticed from looking today that more recent Bombardiers C Series aircraft are now rebadged as Airbus A220s……… Same thing happened with later versions of some McDonnell Douglas 95 aircraft being rebadged and sold as Boeing 717s.

    • Nick_C says:

      The BA source is still listing 35,and you can see where many of them are currently.

      http://thebasource.com/aircraft/b747-400/

  • Rob says:

    This article is currently on the Apple News home page and has had 175,000 views so far! Unfortunately for us, all those views are ‘inside’ Apple News so we don’t get the visitors (and their ad revenue, and possible long-term readership) over here.

    • Julian says:

      Doesn’t the article show its source and provide a way to click through to the original?

      Just checked on the Android Google News app and the same problem of not being able to click through to the original source article seems to exist there too but I see that they are crediting the story about the retirement of BA’s entire Jumbo fleet to Reuters and not to HeadForPoints……….

      • Rob says:

        It does but only 0.3% are clicking through to the original source!

        • Julian says:

          So that’s still nearly 600 readers that you wouldn’t otherwise have had………….

          • Rob says:

            Now at 265,000 readers of the article on Apple News, of which 900 have clicked through.

            Not bad for something Rhys knocked up in literally 15 minutes at 10.30 last night.

          • Rhys says:

            Slightly more than 15 minutes!

    • Optimus Prime says:

      Hey Rob – out of curiosity, do you know how many people subscribes to your RSS feed and then also click and visit the actual website?

    • keith says:

      why not just put a blocker on the news to apple news so that they fruity folks are forced to exit apple news and use an alternative route if they want to read the article.. thus depriving apple of revenue

    • Lady London says:

      Sounds a bit unfair on HfP Rob. You’d think Apple should have to pay a copyright or share some revenue or something. Awful if revenue clicks from there would be lost as well.

      • Rob says:

        We voluntarily submit our content to them – it’s not as if they take it unasked!

      • RussellH says:

        Apple share revenue?! Or Google?!

        No, no pigs overhead.

        🙂

  • Andy says:

    I am grateful that I managed to get the two great BA 747 experiences in the last couple of years – upstairs in Club World from LHR to DFW, enjoying those seat-side lockers cum drink shelves, and then last September snagging an Avios trip from LHR to SEA in seat 2A in First Class. Roll on the world reopening so I can do something similar on the A380 before they all disappear…

  • Dev says:

    As iconic as the 747 is, I will not be missing the knackered Mid-Js that were the regular visitors to Accra or Nairobi!

  • AJA says:

    I’m sorry to read this. My first ever long haul flights aged 10 were on a 747 albeit SAA. I had the pleasure of flying the BA CW upper deck 11 years ago from SFO to LHR. It was lovely.

    I also flew the upper deck on an SAA 747 from LHR to JNB although that was in economy. It was still memorable as it was so quiet and felt like flying a small aircraft. At one point we went through some turbulence and I remember thinking it wasn’t too bad. The cabin crew said just be thankful we were upstairs as it was rather rougher on the main deck below.

    I must say it was a special feeling to walk down the stairs at the end of the flight.

  • John says:

    What a triumph of engineering to have lasted so long. Had a fantastic visit to Everet Boeing factory a few years back where they are still building the freight version, and the Museum of flight nearby in Seattle. They have the No 3 air frame used for testing and inside is completely empty. You can see all the pulleys and wires that fly the thing.
    Had some great flights best was when the Vancouver flight was made no first class, but they sold the first seats as business. Flew with the family and the staff had a bit of fun giving the kids the first class service. And a great nights sleep in those big old lay flats.
    Still by the end things were a bit rattly and worn out, but good memories of family trips.
    And of course a fantastic safety record for an airframe.

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