British Airways proposes immediate Boeing 747 retirement, airline confirms

British Airways Boeing 747-400. Photo: © Steve Lynes

British Airways has confirmed that it is ‘proposing to retire’ its entire fleet of Boeing 747 with immediate effect.

On Thursday evening, several journalists reported that the airline considers retiring the aircraft type, initially citing internal sources. British Airways did not immediately respond to the news, but confirmed its plans a few hours later in a reply to a question on Twitter.

This confirmation comes after weeks of speculations over the state of the British flag-carrier’s 31 remaining Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jet”, as many airlines around the world have announced retirement plans for older and less efficient aircraft over the past few weeks and months.

British Airways is not the first to propose a retirement of the aging Boeing 747, specifically the 747-400 version, amid the ongoing Coronavirus crisis. Other companies that have recently withdrawn the aircraft type from service include Australia’s Qantas and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. As the Covid-19 pandemic evolves, airlines around the world are constantly adjusting flight plans. While the situation has improved in much of Europe (compared to all-time lows in late-March and April), airlines are still only operating a fraction of their normal schedules. Especially long-haul travel continues to be hit hard due to international travel restrictions.

In a press release, British Airways states that it does not expect the airline industry to recover to pre-2020 levels before the year 2023 or 2024.

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.British Airways

Its predecessor BOAC first introduced the Boeing 747 (at the time the 747-100) back in April 1971. The aircraft type has been the flagship of the British flag-carrier for the past 49 years. While the airline did add the larger Airbus A380 into its fleet in more recent history, the 747-400 (set to be retired in 2023, according to now discarded pre-Coronavirus plans) continued to make up a significantly larger portion of British Airways’ fleet, with BA even being the worldwide largest operator of the -400 version.

It was not immediately clear which aircraft types would ‘take over’ the capacities and routes that were previously operated by the Boeing model. British Airways’ long-haul fleet currently consists of Airbus A350-1000, A380, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with more A350, 787, as well as 777X on order.

On Friday, British Airways told International Flight Network that it will likely not be able to operate any special farewell flights for the aircraft’s retirement. On Friday, Qantas, which also withdrew the 747-400 from its fleet, operated the last of three farewell flights over Australia.