British Airways has confirmed plans to immediately retire its iconic fleet of Boeing 747-400 aircraft in an internal memo sent to staffers late on Thursday night. The Heathrow-based airline had already intended to phase out the ageing aircraft by 2024 but the Jumbo Jet’s fate has been hastened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the fleet has been grounded since late March and will likely never fly commercially ever again.
“With much regret, we are proposing, subject to consultation, the immediate retirement of our Queen of the Skies, the 747-400,” the leaked memo reads. “The proposal to retire the entire fleet of these iconic aircraft is nothing short of heartbreaking for those of us that grew up watching them fly all over the world,” the note, signed by BA’s management committee continues.
There has been a great deal of speculation over what might happen to British Airways’ 747 in light of the Corona crisis. More than three weeks ago, early retirement for the fleet looked inevitable after BA cancelled all pilot training for the aircraft type.
“The unofficial flagship of our fleet, the 747-400 has a very special place in the hearts of aviation enthusiasts and of many of us. We know how many memories of this extra-special aircraft are shared across the BA family and our proposals to retire the fleet early has only been taken in response to the crisis we find ourselves in,” employees were told.
Although British Airways says the decision is “subject to consultation” the decision looks to be a foregone conclusion.
British Airways has operated the Boeing 747 since 1971 and took delivery of its first 747-400 in 1989. The newest of BA’s 30-strong fleet was delivered back in 1999 according to the airline. For many years, British Airways was the largest operator of 747’s and still has 30 actives Jumbo Jets in its fleet.
The aircraft will be replaced with smaller Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s and 777’s. The Airbus A350-1000 will also take on ultra-long-haul flying, while the new 777X due to be delivered from next year will also shape the future of BA’s fleet.
Describing, the 747 as an aircraft “of another era”, staffers were told last night that they relied on high premium load factors to be commercially viable – with frequent business travellers not expected to return flying for up to 12-months or even longer, the Queen of the Skies is no longer “sustainable”.
German rival, Lufthansa has already announced the early retirement of five of its Boeing 747-400’s and Qantas brought forward the retirement of its Jumbo Jets because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.