Friday, 17 July 2020

The 'Queen of the Skies' to fly no more for British Airways - BA axes 747 fleet

The UK's leading legacy carrier, British Airways, has confirmed it will be axing its Boeing 747 fleet from immediate effect. 
A British Airways 747 takes off                                      Photo Credit Nick MorrishBritish Airways

BA is one of the largest passenger operators of the type in the world, having over 30 aircraft in its fleet, however, the downturn in business following the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis means the airline no longer needs the jumbo plane on its services. 

"It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect," a spokesperson for the airline told the media on Friday morning,  adding; "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," 

The carrier already had plans to retire these 'Queen of the Skies' over the next four or so years, but the financial constraints on the company plus its self-induced antagonistic relations with staff have seen its forecast passenger numbers to remain low for the next four years at least. Mean these graceful big lumps have now flown their last regular scheduled flights for the airline.

British Airways and its forebears have had a long history with the 747's through the decades and with its various models, "Our first 747 was received in 1971 when we were known as BOAC. However, the current model being retired is the 747-400, which is the aircraft we first received in 1989." the BA spokesperson told us. Indeed over the years, the four-engined beast had been a mainstay of the carriers long-haul fleet, which at its peak, numbered  57 747 flying in BA colours.

The high costs of operating and maintaining the 747 fleet has been a major concern for many airlines including British Airways in recent times, even before the current crisis. With Boeing already telling its 747 parts suppliers, they wouldn't be required after next year, their fate was effectively sealed last year. "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."

It will be a sad day for all aviation enthusiasts and regular BA 747 passengers, as well as staff when they perform their final flights,  away from passenger service to an uncertain future.  So may head off to be converted to freighter aircraft and plough through the skies for another r the or fifteen years.  One or two might become museum pieces, but most I fear will be ferried to aircraft boneyards to fester in the sun for a while before being broken up for bits and pieces to keep other 747s flying and then broken up completely recycling. 

The Independent's travel editor and all-round aviation nice guy Simon Calder said "British Airways Boeing 747: Sad news. The plane with the hump is heading for the dump".

747 pilot Scott Bateman MBE said "I had the most amazing 13-years flying the @Boeing 747-400. So sad confirmation that won’t be coming back into service where I work.  It will be sorely missed from the skies across the world."

BA A380 captain Dave Wallsworth tweeted; "An aviation icon and the aircraft most pilots grew up wanting to fly. A few hours ago @British_Airways announced the retirement of the @Boeing 747-400. A favourite with pilots and cabin crew and, along with Concorde, the most recognisable aircraft in the world."

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.

We have committed to making our fleet more environmentally friendly as we look to reduce the size of our business to reflect the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on aviation.  As painful as it is, this is the most logical thing for us to propose. The retirement of the jumbo jet will be felt by many people across Britain, as well as by all of us at British Airways.  It is sadly another difficult but necessary step as we prepare for a very different future."

So as they bow out from BA's main fleet,  what better time to have a look back at the BA's jumbos through the years. 

A BOAC 747 heading to engineering at London Heathrow in 1971   Photo British Airways
BOAC stairway to heaven - or at least the upper deck on a 747-136 in the early 1970's  Photo British Airways
First Class on a BOAC 747  Photo British Airways 

Such epic space in the passenger cabin - at least in the 1970's   inside a 747 -136 of BOAC  Photo British Airways
BOAC  747-136  A magnificent long-haul wonder at the time - still a favourite of many plane spotters and enthusiasts Photo British Airways

Soaring above the clouds,  a British Airways 747-400  Photo British Airways 

Coming home  Photo British Airways

Special 'oneworld' alliance livery  Photo British Airways

A great line up of queens at London Heathrow.  Photo British Airways

A retro liveried 747-400 flew special flights with the Red Arrows   Photo British Airways

A retro liveried 747-400 flew special flights with the Red Arrows   Photo British Airways

Picture credit Stuart Bailey  @StuBaileyPhoto

BA 747s parked up at Bournemouth during the COVID-19 crisis and now never to return to BA's regular schedule. Photo SkyNews 

The airline will, we're being told unofficially, be operating a series of 'final' special passenger sightseeing flights during the summer before the aircraft are disposed of.

BOAC flew its first 747 flight on 14th April 1971
British Airways took delivery of its first 747-400 in July 1989 and its last in April 1999
At its height, the airline had a fleet of 57 747-400s
The average age of British Airways’ fleet is 23 years old
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
The 747-400 is 231ft long

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