Article Written by James Field, Thomas Saunders & Tomos Howells
LONDON — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of the Boeing 747-400 in the British Airways (BA) fleet was in doubt.
The suspension of the crew training earlier in June, together with International Airlines Group (IAG) decision to retire Iberia’s (IB) Airbus A340-600 by the end of the year, spurred the rumors in the industry.
Unfortunately, these rumors have been confirmed earlier today, when a press release from BA announced that its 31 747-400 are likely “to have flown their last scheduled commercial service. ”
“This is not how we wanted or expected to have to say goodbye to our incredible fleet of 747 aircraft.” Alex Cruz, Chairman, and CEO of British Airways said in a statement. “It is a heartbreaking decision to have to make. (…) They will always hold a special place in our hearts at British Airways.” Cruz said.
The Boeing 747-400 was expected to leave the British Airways fleet in 2024.
THE JUMBO GOES BRITISH
The Boeing 747 was the first widebody ever, and British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC) was not exempt from the list of initial customers.
In April 1966, BOAC was authorized to place an order for six 747-100, further extended to five by the end of that year, taking the initial number to 11 aircraft.
The first Boeing 747-100 for BOAC (G-AWNA · MSN 19761 · LN 23) first flew on March 15, 1970, with delivery a month later on April 22, 1970. The airline became the second European airline in taking delivery of the jumbo after Lufthansa (LH).
Despite the fanfare and the media hype around the Jumbo, the early reception from BOAC pilots was lukewarm, as they demanded a new pay deal. Negotiations took longer than expected, keeping the BOAC jumbos on the ground for almost a year.
Finally, once the dispute was settled, the airline launched its Jumbo service from London-Heathrow (LHR) to New York on April 14, 1971 —a destination that has been commonplace with the British 747 ever since.
By the time BOAC merged into BA in 1974, the airline had 15 747 in service, with four more added before the end of the 1970s.
The type was so popular among travelers that BA built its long-haul network around the type, signing 19 747-200 in June 1976. The first 747-200 (G-BDXB · MSN 21239 · LN 302) arrived in June 1977, but once again, its entry into service was not exempt from industrial actions.
The operational expertise of BA with the Jumbo for more than 15 years gave the airline a place in a consultative group alongside six other airlines to develop a next-generation 747.
The recommendations of the group shaped the 747-400, the most successful variant built to date. BA welcomed its first 747-400 (G-BNLA · MSN 23908 · LN 727) on June 31, 1989.
Although BA ultimately decided to place an order for the Airbus A380 and not for the 747-8 in passenger service, BA wet leased three 747-8Fs to Global Supply Systems (XH), fully adorned with the current British Airways colors. The type lasted in the fleet until 2014.
As years passed, the iconic 747 became intimately linked to the history of BA. In 2016, British Airways became a sponsor of the GB Olympic and Paralympic team for the games in Rio de Janeiro.
The airline used one of its 747 (G-CIVA · MSN 27902 · LN 967) to bring the team to the event and back home, adorned with special markings.
The importance of the 747 in the history of BA is such that to commemorate the centennial of the airline in 2019, the airline brought back three of its iconic liveries (commonly known as BOAC, Negus, and Landor), which together with an Airbus A319 with the colors of British European Airlines (BEA), were a treat for those aviation enthusiasts at heart.
END OF AN ERA
A public opinion study from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows that seven out of 10 travelers are concerned about the risks of catching COVID-19 during air travel, in line with the projections from analysts and operators, which believe that the air travel industry will not recover the demand levels before the pandemic until 2024 at the earliest.
“As painful as it is, this [the retirement of the 747-400s] 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.” Alex Cruz said.
Just as the Concorde captured the imagination of thousands around the world, the Boeing 747 will forever be remembered as a true British Ambassador as the longest-serving aircraft in the fleet of the airline, with a span of 51 years of service.
Long Live The Queen of the Skies.