The news about British Airways’ immediate retirement of its flagship Boeing 747-400 has been met with sorrow and grief on social media with both BA-staff and avgeeks.
“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. The Queen is dead, long live the Queen”, BA-Captain Scott Bateman writes on Twitter. He only recently moved from the 747 to the Airbus A350-1000.
“Goodnight and farewell to the 747. (…) An extraordinary aircraft that changed the face of travel, business, industry, and our lives”, says Mark Mannering-Smith, Head of Aviation Safety at BA.
BA announced the new late on Thursday, July 16, saying: “With much regret, we are proposing, subject to consultation, the immediate retirement of our Queen of the Skies, the 747-400.” While raving about the type and what it has meant for British Airways, it says there is no place for her in the post-Covid fleet: “They are an airliner of another era, however, and they burn far more fuel than the latest generation of planes and, logically, require more frequent and detailed attention from our engineering team. They rely on high passenger load factors and high premium demand to make them commercially viable. In short, we do not believe that these beautiful aircraft are sustainable in a very different airline industry. Subject to proper consultation, their early retirement would be accelerated over the coming months, and we would not expect any more commercial flights to be flown.”
British Airways had planned to phase out the 747-400 until 2024, having already retired some when the A350-1000 joined the fleet. It invested in a cabin update only a couple of years ago but has now decided to write-off on this by immediately retiring the last nine that have remained on the fleet.
101 operated with the airline
The UK-airline has been one of the biggest 747-operators in history, having operated 101 since the first service in 1971. BOAC signed its first order for twelve firm and four options on the 747-136 in November 1968 and had scheduled them to enter service the next year, but a dispute with its pilots delayed entry into service until April 14, 1971. London-New York JFK became the first route on which it became the mainstay type, rivaled in appeal only by Concorde.
From 1976, British Airways introduced the Rolls-Royce-powered 747-236 of which eight were ordered the previous year. In total, 24 -236s have flown with the airline, but BA really went shopping in Seattle in the late eighties and early nineties when it ordered 57 of the newest 747-436s. They entered the fleet from June 1989. The last one to join BA was built in 1999.
The arrival of the Boeing 777 changed the fortunes of the Jumbo Jet within BA, as the airline progressively preferred twinjets over the quads. Already back in August 1998, it canceled orders for four 747s in preference of the triple seven. The type resisted the Airbus A380, which never has grown beyond the twelve. IAG’s Willie Walsh was eager for more A380s only a couple of years ago, but couldn’t get them for the right price. When the Airbus A350-1000 arrived on the scene it marked the end of the 747-400, with the 777-9 confirming that the future is for big twins.
For its 100th anniversary in 2019, British Airways repainted some 747s in liveries from the past, including that of BOAC of the early seventies, BA’s red tails of the seventies and eighties, the dark blue Landor scheme of the eighties and nineties and the final Union Flag livery. The Jumbo Jet has been with the UK airline for 39 years. BA only lost one 747: not in an accident, but on the ground in Kuwait during the Iraqi war in 1991.
Says BA CEO Alex Cruz: “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.”
(source: British Airways – Its history, Aircraft and Liveries, Keith Gaskell)
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.