British Airways has decided to immediately retire its entire Boeing 747-400 fleet of 30 aircraft due to the disruption in the aviation industry as a result of the coronavirus.
”It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect,” the airline tells FlightGlobal on 16 July. ”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,” the London-based airline says.
First reports of the move emerged after an internal memo with a timestamp of 21:56 UK local time on 16 July was sent to all British Airways staff and subsequently shared widely online.
“We are proposing, subject to consultation, the immediate retirement of our Queen of the Skies, the 747-400,” the note reads. “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 we will not see a return to 2019 levels until 2023 at the soonest.”
According to Cirium fleets data, British Airways had 30 of the iconic widebody long-range aircraft in its fleet, all of which have been parked as the global health crisis led to a sharp drop in demand and curtailment of flights.
The airline had said earlier that the fleet would be retired by 2024, to be replaced with Airbus A350s and 787 Dreamliners.
British Airways acknowledges in the email to staff that the aircraft are “of another era”, needing more fuel as well as more and additional costly care and attention from maintenance crews.
According to Cirium fleets data, 71 carriers worldwide currently operate 500 examples of the large widebody, including freighter versions.
The first 747 aircraft went into revenue service in 1970, with the first example joining the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation fleet in 1971. It has become a favorite among aviation fans the world over, known for its unmistakable shape and longevity in commercial operations.
British Airways becomes the second passenger carrier in as many months to announce it will stop flying the 747. In June, Australia’s Qantas said it would be accelerating the retirement of its remaining six 747 aircraft.