UK airline British Airways has announced that it will be immediately retiring its entire fleet of Boeing 747 planes. The company has seen a sharp downturn in travel since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and has been forced to retire its fleet four years earlier than planned.
Up until now, British Airways has been the largest operator of 747 planes and the decision to retire them means they will be losing approximately 10% of their total fleet. As they target net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the firm claims they will now be operating more flights with its more modern and fuel-efficient planes, such as the Airbus 350 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect,” the airline said in a statement on Friday.
“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,” said British Airways, which is part of the IAG (ICAGY) aviation group.
With the coronavirus pandemic causing financial shockwaves throughout the world, British Airways is not the first airline to take drastic measures after suffering from losses due to the outbreak. Lufthansa, the largest German airline, has so far cut around 100 planes from its fleet and in March grounded all of its A380s. Most other airlines have been forced to get rid of older aircraft and cut the size of their fleet by at least a few.
The first Boeing 747 flight took place over 50 years ago, in February 1969 and the aircraft was the first to be dubbed a ‘jumbo jet’. British Airways’ predecessor, BOAC, made its first 747 flight just two years later in 1971 when passengers traveled from London to New York. British Airways in its current form took delivery of its first 747 in 1989 and at its peak the firm had a fleet of 57, which was second only to Japan Airlines, which had more than one hundred.
Around the world, there remains only 171 passenger versions of the 747 in airline fleets. Of these, only 27 are in use, according to Cirium Fleet, a research firm that produces a database to track commercial jets. Many of these are expected to fall the same way of British Airway’s fleet with global air travel set to suffer for years to come and modern, more efficient aircraft preferred.
“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,” the carrier said.
After being retired, the future of aeroplanes and other aircraft is decided by specialist companies who assess whether they should be scrapped or salvaged. Often, the aircraft is dismantled and recycled or sold for parts, with engines holding the most value.
However in some cases, the aircraft is stripped out for its valuable interior. Business owners, private individuals and entrepreneurs buy the old airliners in order to convert them into tourist attractions, restaurants and hotels.
The aircraft that are left to be scrapped are often transported to extremely large ‘aircraft graveyards’ in the desert and left to rust.
“The Boeing 747 is beautiful, distinctive and has half a century of proud service behind it. But – as a passenger plane at least – it is also quite simply outdated,” business expert Theo Leggett told the BBC.
“A four-engine aircraft, it is far less efficient than modern twin-engine models, such as the Airbus A350, the 787 Dreamliner, or even the older Boeing 777 – all of which are cheaper to run. Before the Covid-19 crisis, the writing was on the wall. Airlines such as Air France, Delta and United had already retired their fleets.
“BA had planned to use them for another few years. But the crisis in the industry means a future in which there will be fewer passengers, fewer planes – and keeping costs down will be crucial. So now the airline has decided the queen of the skies is a luxury it can no longer afford,” Leggett continued.
“British Airways’ predecessor BOAC first started flying 747s in the early 1970s. BA is currently flying the 747-400 version of the long-range aircraft,” he added.
“It is currently the world’s biggest operator of 747-400s and first took delivery of them in July 1989. Originally, the upper deck contained a lounge which was known as the “club in the sky”.
“The British carrier added it would operate more flights on modern, more fuel-efficient planes such as its new Airbus A350s and Boeing 787 Dreamliners,” the expert continued.