What Happened To Aer Lingus’ Boeing 747 Fleet?

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?

Aer Lingus 747
What happened to the Aer Lingus 747s? Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia

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?

Featured Video:

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.

Aer Lingus 747
Aer Lingus’ investment in 747s was contentious. Photo: Steve Williams via Wikimedia

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.

EI-ASI
EI-ASI once carried the Pope! Photo: Ardfern via Wikimedia

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
EI-ASJ was the second to arrive. Photo: Ardfern via Wikimedia

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.

5N-AAA
EI-ASJ as 5N-AAA for Kabo Airlines. Photo: Bob Adams via Flickr

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.

EI-BED
EI-BED was put out on lease almost immediately. Photo: Maarten Visser via Wikimedia

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.

Aer Lingus 747
The ex-Aer Lingus 747 went to work for Continental before being scrapped. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

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.

I-DEME
I-DEME in its final resting place; a sorry sight. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

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.

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Tam

I was lucky enough to fly from LHR to Barbados and back on one of the Aer Lingus 747s in 1982, I believe it was working for British Airways. I was very young but remember the green seat covers and I always associate the 747 with a shamrock tailfin. So I’m surprised to learn Aer Lingus only had four of these aircraft! The film Tootsie was played in the cabin, with a proper film projector. I was very lucky and flew a few times when I was a youngster. I believe it was on the return trip the US had… Read more »

Damien

I was on the 747 St Patrick to Gran canara on 1985, Christmas holidays it was the families first holiday abroad, and first on the 747, you use to watch it flying out from dublin Airport at the weekend seating on top of a transit van, the good days

Philip mcnally

I remember travelling on the 747’s to lebanon for peacekeeping duties, it landed in Ben gurian Airport in Israel and on completion of your tour you could see the shamrock on the tail from the road that led to the airport, brilliant air hostesse’s

Terry Rowley

I was a wee sprout in the early 80s when my mom would take me, my brother and sister to Ireland. We’d pack up for the summer and leave Philly for Dundalk, CO Louth. We’d sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver as we were waiting for takeoff. The flight attendants were top notch. They were so gracious as we made trip after trip to the galley to get “free” treats and soda. When we’d touch down in Dublin we’d start a round of ovation. That was all flown on a 747. We made a number of trips… Read more »

Andrew Pollock

JFK to Dublin a few times. At one point Aer Lingus had two 747’s one hour apart out of JFK, possibly Christmas week in the late 80’s All named after Saints they were packed. A mile high pub.

Ken

I flew the St. Patrick many times. There was a plaque affixed to the bulkhead inside door 1L identifying it as such, along with stating it to be the flagship of the Aer Lingus fleet and used by Pope John Paul II for his visit to Ireland. Another interesting aspect of it was the cabin arrangement. It was divided into five “sections”. The premium cabin was called “Golden Shamrock”, while the remaining four were named after each of the provinces.

Robbie Masterson

St Patrick flew me and my comrades from the 46th IRISHBATT to Beirut via Athens to begin our six months deployment on the South Lebanese / Israeli border in Oct 1979. And she flew us back home from Beirut via Cyprus in April 1980 including many wounded Irish soldiers injured in fighting that April. Sadly Three of our comrades lost their lives during that time, and never lived to see that massive Aer Lingus B747 aircraft proudly flying the Shamrock on her tail waiting for us in Beirut. Those lucky enough to so will never forget that aircraft or what… Read more »

Sean

I remember flying on an Aer Lingus 747 From Dublin via Shannon to JFK as a kid in 1985. I can remember getting a kids pack that included an Aer Lingus Pilot badge and magic drawing board. I can also remember the cabins being named after the 4 provinces of Ireland.

Gareth Habington

I flew on one of them in summer 1982. A family holiday to the US. We weren’t posh..!! Actually it was the first time I had ever been on a plane or out of the country. Some introduction to aviation..!! Have happy memories of it, I was 9 years old. I remember the staff being so friendly and bringing me and my brother on a tour of the plane – even a quick peek at the rich people upstairs..!! Now I’m quite a bit older and my son (who has asd) loves planes, with 747’s very high on the list…!!

marco8898

The 747 is for big boys and big airlines. Not the faint of heart operators.

Simon Burke

I remember as a kid, maybe ’86 or ’87, we went on holidays to Portugal. But there was no direct flights from Dublin to Lisbon. (Or there were, but my dad didn’t book it that way). We arrived in Dublin airport, and I expected to board 737 to Heathrow, but we all got on a 747. I asked one of the cabin crew why a 747 was doing such a short flight. She said because of all the people emigrating to the UK. But, she must have been right, because the flight was full.

Paul Brierley

I worked in Aer LIngus aircraft maintenance from from the early eighties, the 747’s were a regular visitor to the specialy designed hangar 5 for jumbo jets.
Heavy maintenance Was a regular requirement on them, especially structural repairs & modifications.
There would be round the clock shifts to ensure they left the hangars on time for scheduled flights to JFK.
Great days & great colleagues.

Tony Cullen

@ Paul – my Dad was a Tech Stores supervisor in AL, retiring in the early 80s, not sure if you would have known him – (Val Cullen) he joined AL from the Aer Corps after the war. Anytime I pass Hangar 5 I always think of him working away there

Nixon Thomas

I flew on one of their 747’s in 1982. The flight was from Cardiff to Dublin for the Ireland v Wales rugby international the next day. I was first to board and ended up sitting in seat A1 which was in the first class nose section and due to the nose curvature the window had a partial forward view which made the take off interesting. Unfortunately Wales lost so my 747 flight is the best memory of that weekend.

Anthony McTigue

I flew Aer Lingus 747s a great many times as a young lad always on SNN-BOS. The green livery really stood out from all the rest (dam you IAG for ditching the mostly green livery!) especially in those days where liveries tended to be simpler. They used to draw the biggest audience of admirers at the international terminal in BOS when they were in town. My love of flying and the 747 in particular comes from flying these aircraft.

Russell Rafter

In March 1987, I was Aer Lingus’s 50 millionth passenger. I was travelling from LHR to DUB when it happened. All the passengers on EI 157 were given Champagne & on arrival at Dublin, I was greeted by David Kennedy, the CEO, & interviewed by RTE. To celebrate, my wife & I were given a 2 week holiday in the States, travelling in Golden Shamrock Class to & from New York. Our packed itinerary in the States took in New York, Washington, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, Chicago & Boston. We will never forget that Epic trip of a Lifetime.
Russell Rafter.

Sheila Hill

So sad to see the end of the 747 reign. I simply love the Queen of the Skies, she is a beauty. It is such an exhilarating feeling when she is about to take off & when she lands.
I can’t wait to be on her last flight from Jo’burg to Sydney.

John Faris

I have a memory that the first 747 to land at Edinburgh was an Aer Lingus carrying Irish supporters to a 5 Nations match at Mirrayfield. I regret I cannot supply the reg. nor the result .

Joe joyce

I flew in aer lingus 747 when I flew from Shannon to new York in 1987 for the big migration from Ireland, my first time in a 747 I remember it looked so big inside compared to a 737 and so smooth I felt so safe in it with the four engines, the plane was packed with Irish and a great sing song was had will never forget it, came across the same plane in the nevada desert waiting to be scrapped on the Internet so sad.

Jeff

I flew on one of these in the early 90’s on a school tour from Dublin to Shannon. I cant imagine the planning and hassle that went into that school tour, but it was EPIC as a young lad, having never been on a jet plane before, to board a 747 for the short flight.

Tom

Wasn’t there an aer lingus 747 in the movie white nights ?(known for Lionel Richie’s say you say me) It crashed! It kept the colours but changed the name of the plane to orient.

Ger Roe

https://youtu.be/PquLUhy6i8U

It was an Aer Lingus plane alright, but a 707 painted to look like a 747.