British Airways unveil 'victoRIOus' the aircraft bringing Team GB and ParalympicsGB back from Rio Taken: 15th August 2016 Picture by: Stuart Bailey / British Airways

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. ”

At its operational peak, British Airways had the world’s largest Boeing 747-400 fleet, with 57 aircraft. (Photo: Roberto Leiro). 

“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 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.  

G-AWNA was BOAC’s first Boeing 747, and the first widebody ever operated by a British airline. (Photo: British Airways).

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). 

The Boeing 747 reshaped the air travel trend, heralding the intercontinental mass transportation. (Photo: British Airways)

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.

A BOAC Boeing 747-100 with weights on pylons where P&W JT9D engines were supposed to be. The airline leased the engines of its jumbos, as the growing pains of the Jumbo subsided and the negotiations with the Pilots continued. (Photo: The Boeing Company).

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 creation of British Airways left some interesting hybrid schemes, like this 747 in full BOAC colors with British Airways markings (Photo: Eduard Marmet).

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 Boeing 747-200 was the first British Airways Jumbo powered by Rolls-Royce engines. (Photo: Richard Silagi).

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.

G-BNLA was the first 747-400 delivered to British Airways in 1989. The aircraft served for 20 years before retirement. (Photo: Tim Rees).

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.

In 1997, British Airways introduced a new livery, featuring a short-lived ‘World Tails’ concept. Here it is seen a 747, with the Ndebele Martha (South Africa) theme. (Photo: Aero Icarus)

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.

British Airways wet leased three Boeing 747-8Fs for its cargo operations. The type was phased out in 2014. (Photo: Piotr Pasula)

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.

British Airways named G-CIVA ‘victoRIOus.’ The aircraft transported Team GB and ParalympicsGB to Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. (Photo: British Airways).

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.

A British Airways Boeing 747-400 wearing full BOAC colors, escorted by the RAF Red Arrows during RIAT 2019. (Photo: British Airways).

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.


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.

‘Landor’ (G.BNLY · MSN 27090 · LN 959) stored in Bournemouth Airport (BOH) during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Thomas Saunders)

“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.