Aer Lingus isn’t well known for operating the 747, but they did. Over the years, they owned three and flew four, but where are they now?
The Boeing 747 is quite possibly one of the most iconic and easily recognized aircraft of all time. Much like the A380, its sheer size and unique shape means it’s hard to miss, and for many years it seemed like airlines weren’t really playing with the big boys unless they had a few.
While many airlines are well known for operating the 747, such as British Airways, Qantas and Lufthansa, others seem to have been forgotten. One such airline is Irish flag carrier, Aer Lingus. The IAG owned airline is, today, a heavily Airbus focused carrier, but that wasn’t always the case.
Back in the day, Aer Lingus had a sizeable fleet of Boeing 737 narrowbodies, complemented by just four 747s. Why did Aer Lingus stop operating the 747, and where are they now?
Aer Lingus and the 747
On March 6th, 1971, Aer Lingus took delivery of its very first Boeing 747. This was the first of two that were ordered by outgoing general manager Dr. J. F. Dempsey, signed off just weeks before his retirement from more than 30 years of service. The plan was to fly the jumbos transatlantic on routes to US destinations including New York from Dublin.
However, the 747 proved an expensive bird to fly. The airline went on to order one more jumbo, but quickly put it out to lease after it became clear they were not making a profit. During a Finance Committee debate by the Houses of the Oireachtas, Dublin South Central MP for the Labor Party, John O’Donovan, commented,
“Everything connected with the 747 is expensive. Let us be clear about that. That is one thing that we can be quite certain about. I do not mind admitting that the whole thing is outside my understanding.”
O’Donovan was vehemently outspoken about the 747 purchase, criticizing Aer Lingus for its decision to invest in the oversized aircraft. However, Fianna Fáil MP, Patrick J. Lenihan, defended the airline, saying,
“This was a commercial decision taken by the national airline and I think in the context of the time rightly taken. Every airline in the world made a similar decision at the same time. Every airline in the world is having trouble with them. We are not unique in this respect.”
Nevertheless, the Irish carrier pressed on with the two 747s it had in active service. At one point, the carrier even leased a fourth 747 from Alitalia, presumably to compensate for one of their own being out of action.
You can catch one of the Aer Lingus 747s in its classic commercial below:
On the 2nd October 1995, the last Aer Lingus Boeing 747 flight touched down. It marked 25 years of continuous service by the Queen of the Skies, with the aircraft being replaced by the incoming A330. Aer Lingus was the first airline to operate the A330 under ETOPS across the North Atlantic, paving the way for its future fleet configuration.
What happened to the 747s?
The first Aer Lingus 747 was registered EI-ASI and was affectionately known as St. Patrick. This aircraft had the accolade of being the first European airframe apart from Alitalia metal to fly Pope John Paul II.
The Pope traveled from Rome to Dublin and later from Shannon to Boston in September 1979. The aircraft left Aer Lingus in 1997 to work for Kabo Air in Nigeria as 5N-ZZZ, where it stayed until it was scrapped in 2003.
EI-ASJ was the second to join the fleet, arriving around a month after St. Patrick. Although it stayed with Aer Lingus for 26 years, it spent brief periods on lease to Air Siam, British Airways and British Caledonian Airways. In 1997, it was sold to Kabo Air also, who operated it as 5N-AAA until it was scrapped in 2012.
Aer Lingus purchased its third 747 in January 1979, registered EI-BED, although this one had already been working for Lufthansa for nine years. By now, they knew that the aircraft wasn’t profitable, and quickly leased it out to Air Algerie.
Over the next decade, it worked for airlines as diverse as Air Jamaica, Qantas and LAN Chile, before being withdrawn from use in 1994 and finally scrapped in 1996.
The fourth 747 to fly for Aer Lingus was a very brief stint indeed. Leased from Alitalia, I-DEME operated for less than a month with the Irish carrier, suggesting it was a short replacement while one of the others was undergoing maintenance.
This 747 went on to operate for SAS, Icelandair and finally Continental Air Lines, before being scrapped in 2007 at 37 years old.
Did you ever fly Aer Lingus’ 747s? Let us know in the comments.