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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.

  • Richard says:

    Going to miss that Roller powered noise!

  • Noah Bowie says:

    I’m going to miss these more than almost anything. The first time I flew abroad was on a BA 747 to New York and from there on I was hooked. I loved watching these beauties fly over my home in London every day. An icon no doubt. My final trip on a BA 747 was in October 2019 where I flew back from Miami on the Negus retro livery plane. I’ll miss them forever.

  • Mark M says:

    Out of pure idle curiosity, I wonder if a 747 actually could take off from LCY ? It would have to be virtually empty of fuel and anything else I guess, but it would make a fantastic image & video…
    My own guess would be that it could, in theory, but could probably not land there in the first place !

    Still, they land and take off from SXM, which is not exactly a large empty space. Tthat was a sight to behold (and I saw it and took the photos!)

    • Nick_C says:

      SXM is 2300 metres. LCY is only 1508.

      But City also requires steep ascents and descents, which are not a problem at St Maarten. You need STOL capability to use LCY.

  • Nick_C says:

    FR24 have published the current locations of the BA fleet.
    14 at Cardiff
    2 at Cotswold
    9 at Heathrow
    5 at Teruel (the Spanish graveyard)

  • Ian Carter says:

    My first plane ride was in a British airways flight to Houston and it a was in a 747 . The staff was very good service.

  • Barry says:

    Do we know what aircraft BA are likely to replace the 747 with on which routes? Have return flights booked to LA around the Xmas holiday and was due to go out on A380, return on B747. Will they replace aircraft or will they just cancel those flights and load everyone into the A380 and B777 flying the other daily flights? Might we inadvertently get Club Suite?

  • old bob says:

    My first flight was on a Vickers Viscount as a young lad. Also flown on 707 320B, Comet4 (Dan Air) Boeing727, Airbus A300, BAC one eleven, Bae146, and various others, most of which are now in museums!

    Got to take my kids to the 747 cockpit on arrival of a Virgin flight from Gatwick to Barbados in October 2018, I was more excited than the boys were.
    AV Geekiness is next to godliness, or something like that!

    • Gruntfuttock says:

      My first flight was a Skyways DC3 pleasure trip at Biggin Hill in the early 60s, first charter, BEA Viscount from Heathrow to Jersey day trip. Was a works outing from Heathrow Tower ATC, Dad was a controller, I remember them having a whip round for the Pilots, raised £8 10s. They politely declined 😅. I followed him into ATC, loved every minute… Nurse! The screens!!

      • old bob says:

        Trident, that was a noisy bugger. As a student in the 80’s I worked in the little shop on the top of Queens buildings. Lazy days serving the odd plane spotter, or dads and their kids ice cream and watching plane movements, halcyon days indeed.

    • Nick_C says:

      My first flight was also a Skyways DC3 from Liverpool to Glasgow. I think it would have been in 1961. I remember getting on at the back and walking uphill to get to our seats. Other than that, I only remember the noise!

      After that, I was of the generation that generally flew in British built aircraft. Viscount, Trident, BAC-111, Comet 4, and BAe 146.

      One of the sad things about Concorde retiring was it was the last significant passenger aircraft to be build in the UK (although BAe146/Avro RJ are still in service around the world). We used to lead the world in aircraft design and manufacture.

      Never got to fly in a VC10 sadly.

      • Jill (Kinkell) says:

        I did! Hong Kong to London returning to boarding school in the 60s. Did a lot of flying around the world. Use to have a log book the Captain signed and jotted down the mileage of the trip. Long since thrown out….regrettably

        • Nick_C says:

          I envy you! Another of my regrets is never having flown into Kai Tak.

          • Polly says:

            Didn’t think we would survive our first descent into Kai Tak. Could see into people’s kitchens, it was as amazing experience. Literally thought we would land on the street..

  • Brian Callaghan says:

    I’ve reserved seats for my Wife and me on a BA 747 to San Francisco next April. Does anyone know what Plane they will now use? Or will they tell me so I can swap them?

    • Rob says:

      April is a long way away. If you end up with Club Suite I’d ask for a full refund of the seat money because there are no bad seats in Club Suite.

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

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