The Queen of the Skies’ reign comes to an end
The sight of a British Airways 747 taking off from Heathrow is, for many of us, one of the most iconic airline images this side of Concorde. Sadly, like Concorde, it is something that will soon be confined to memory, following British Airways’ announcement last night that it will be retiring its full fleet of 747s immediately, four years earlier than planned, as the impact of Covid-19 continues to hit the aviation industry.
The news was announced to staff via an internal memo last night, shortly before 10pm, with the story soon hitting the internet via various social media platforms. The company stated:
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect. 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.”
The airline, owned by International Airlines Group, is currently the world’s largest operator of the 747, with 31 747-400 aircraft, and had recently spent millions of pounds updating the interiors of many of them to allow them to continue operating until their planned retirement date in 2024. However, with international travel not expected to return to 2019 levels until at least 2023, forcing airlines around the world to find ways to cut costs, this announcement really comes as no surprise.
While modern planes, such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350, carry fewer passengers than the 747, they are far more fuel efficient, making them much cheaper to run, allowing airlines to operate more point to point services. This is more attractive to customers than the traditional hub and spoke model, where larger aircraft, such as the 747, would carry passengers to a main hub before continuing their journeys on smaller aircraft to their final destination, and is cheaper for airlines to operate. This change in strategy across the industry has also impacted production of the largest passenger aircraft currently in operation, the Airbus A380. Airbus announced last year that it would cease production of the A380 as airlines cancelled orders, instead focussing on smaller, more efficient aircraft, which burn less fuel per passenger.
The Boeing 747 has been one of the most iconic aircraft in the skies since its introduction over 50 years ago. Known as ‘The Queen of the Skies’, its distinctive shape made it instantly recognisable to aviation enthusiasts around the world. British Airways, in its current guise, introduced the 747 to its fleet In 1989, although BOAC, the predecessor to British Airways, started commercial flights in 1971, just two years after Boeing launched the first 747.
The British Airways announcement marks the end of the line for the 747 passenger flights by UK airlines, after 50 years of service, following Virgin Atlantic’s announcement earlier this year that it was retiring the 747 from its fleet as it struggled for survival in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Having spent many hours tucked up in the nose of a British Airways 747, I, for one, will be sad to see this aircraft retire from the British Airways fleet. The cabins were worn and the interiors dated, but the 747 has a nostalgia that no modern aircraft can match. It truly is a legend that will live on long past its days of service in the sky.