COVID-19 effect: British Airways to retire Boeing 747 fleet

British Airways on Friday announced its decision retire its entire fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft, fondly known as ‘The Queen of the Skies’, from scheduled commercial service with immediate effect.

Some of these aircraft were pressed into service on the India routes and till recently deployed occasionally.

“After nearly five decades of service and millions of miles flown around the globe, it is proposed that the airline’s remaining fleet of 31 747-400 aircraft will be retired with immediate effect as a result of the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the airline and the aviation sector, which is not predicted to recover to 2019 levels until 2023/24,” British Airways said in a statement from London.

With plans to fly this aircraft for longer, the airline had last year re-painted three of its jumbo jets in heritage colours to mark the company’s centenary.

It had recently refreshed the interiors of a number of its 747 aircraft which were expected to remain in service till at least 2024.

But the rapid spread of COVID-19 and subsequent travel restrictions all around the world made the airline change its plans and “sadly the aircraft will shortly be heading towards its final resting place,” it said.

The fuel-hungry Boeing 747 aircraft were being slowly phased out by British Airways as they reached the end of their working life to help meet the company’s commitment to net zero carbon footprint by 2050, but COVID-19 pandemic expedited the retirement process.

Alex Cruz, British Airways’ Chairman and CEO, said: “This is not how we wanted or expected to have to say goodbye to our incredible fleet of 747 aircraft. It is a heart-breaking decision to have to make.”

“So many people, including many thousands of our colleagues past and present, have spent countless hours on and with these wonderful planes – they have been at the centre of so many memories, including my very first long-haul flight. They will always hold a special place in our hearts at British Airways,” he added.

‘Necessary step’

He said as the company was looking to reduce the size of its business to reflect the impact of the pandemic on aviation, the most logical thing was to retire this fleet.

“It is sadly another difficult but necessary step as we prepare for a very different future,” he added.

The airline operated its first 747 London to New York service on 14 April, 1971, and in July 1989, the first British Airways 747-400, the aircraft type the airline has decided to retire, took to the skies.

For the next decade, the airline took delivery of 56 more of the aircraft, with its final plane delivered in April 1999.

At the time, it was the largest commercial aircraft in the world, and remained so until the Airbus A380 first took to the skies in 2007.

At one point, British Airways operated 57 747-400 aircraft. The original aircraft featured 27 First Class seats and 292 Economy seats.

Initially, the upper deck, widely described as the bubble, contained a lounge, with lounge chair seating. It was known as the ‘club in the sky’ and the aircraft also played host to the world’s very first flat bed seat which British Airways pioneered in 1999.

The airline’s jumbo jets are currently grounded at various locations in the UK and will head to their final journeys.

Boeing has been manufacturing 747 aircraft for more than 50 years. The 747-400 has 6ft high winglets on the tips of its wings to improve efficiency.

It has 16 main wheels and two landing nose wheels. The wings of a 747-400 span 213ft and are big enough to accommodate 50 parked cars. The tail height of 64ft is equivalent to a six-storey building.

Now, a legacy comes to a sudden end.

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