Is British Airways Getting Ready To Bid Farewell To The 747?

Simple Flying understands that British Airways is temporarily suspending its 747 fleet after a tweet was shared yesterday. British Airways told Simple Flying that the suspension is due to recent events; however, it could change in the future. We take a look at whether an early retirement for the aircraft could be on the cards.

BA 747
Simple Flying understands this is a temporary suspension – could it be permanent? Photo: Getty Images

Is the 747 heading into retirement?

On June 19th, one Twitter user shared information about British Airways 747s. With a close-up shot of the aircraft at the gate and the caption “1971-2020?”, Tim Byatt roused speculation that the 747 could be on its way out.

He posted the following tweet, in which he said that as of June 19th, all training and recency for the 747 had been suspended. Around 600 pilots have been affected by the decision.

British Airways has been unable to confirm whether this is a final farewell to the 747. We got in touch with the airline. A spokesperson told Simple Flying that the suspension is concerning the current situation and is subject to change in the future. Interestingly, the airline did not specify which situation is dictating the suspension: is it the pandemic or disagreements between unions?

BA 747
How do union talks play into this decision? Photo: Getty Images

What factors are affecting BA’s decision?

It’s easy to jump to conclusions here and assume that BA is looking at an early retirement for the 747. It wouldn’t be surprising. The idea has been floated before as recently as last month when BA’s parent group IAG issued its Q1 2020 results. In that review, it said that it was looking at further fleet reductions for the airline and potentially an early retirement for the 747.

British Airways had wanted to retire the aircraft in 2024; however, the coronavirus may have accelerated that decision. 17 of BA’s 28 remaining 747-400 aircraft are currently parked. Those that remain are seeing even less use as the months go on. In April, 10 of the 747’s flew at least once in the month, but by May, that number was reduced by half. So far, just four 747’s from BA’s fleet have been active.

Retiring the aircraft early, if this is BA’s decision, makes sense because the aircraft is costly. It’s less fuel-efficient, and it is possible that the demand to fill such a large aircraft will not be there in the coming years. Despite that, could the current 747 suspension be part of something bigger?

BA 747
Other airlines are retiring their 747s. Could the same be true for BA? Photo: Getty Images

Action taken against BA pilots?

British Airways is still in talks with its unions to discuss the fate of its employees as it looks to shrink its operations due to the pandemic. Back on June 7th, the airline threatened to dismiss all of its pilots if an agreement could not be reached. It later clarified that its intention was only to protect its staff as it sought to come to a definitive conclusion. Could this week’s speculation be BA trying to hurry up its unions?

Whether or not BA’s suspensions of the 747 training and recency is permanent will depend on why it undertook the action in the first place. That said, suspending the program in this way makes it seem like the 747 will not return. Left too long, if the airline wants to return the aircraft, there could be a bit of delay while training and recency resume.

Do you think BA will permanently suspend its 747s? Let us know in the comments.