50 Years Of History: The British Airways Boeing 747

The Boeing 747 has been a feature of the British Airways fleet for over 50 years. However, a month ago, the airline’s owner IAG revealed that early retirement of the type is under consideration, potentially ending half a century of history.

British Airways, Boeing 747, History
The sun is sadly setting on 50 years of British Airways’ Boeing 747 history. Photo: Getty Images

Across the aviation industry, the Boeing 747 is seen as an icon. While maybe not quite as iconic as Concorde, the queen of the skies has an instantly recognizable shape that almost everybody knows. However, as twin-jets lead the way with higher efficiency and lower emissions, the Boeing 747 is sadly becoming a dying breed. Indeed, Boeing delivered just seven new 747s in 2019.

The start of the story – BOAC

The story of British Airways’ Boeing 747s starts back in 1970 before BOAC merged with BEA to form the airline that we now know. In April 1970, BOAC took delivery of its first Boeing 747-100. The aircraft was the 23rd to be built by Boeing, according to its line number.

British Airways, Boeing 747, History
15 Boeing 747-100s were delivered to BOAC. Photo: British Airways

Over the next three years, BOAC took delivery of a further 14 aircraft. By the time the 15th aircraft was delivered in December 1973, Boeing had reached the line number 222. None of these aircraft remain flying. Most have been scrapped, with a few having been stored. British Airways’ first Boeing 747 left the fleet in October 1998.

Transfer to British Airways

The 15 Boeing 747s that BOAC had taken delivery of between 1970 and 1973 were transferred to British Airways on April 1st, 1974, following BOAC’s merger with BEA. In November 1974, the British Airways that we know today took delivery of its first 747. This aircraft was registered as G-AWNP and was transferred to Nigeria’s Kabo Air in 2001. The airline took delivery of four 747-100s, giving a total fleet size of 19.

British Airways, Boeing 747, History
Only one -100 was involved in a hull loss with the airline. Photo: Getty Images

Only one of British Airways’ Boeing 747-100 was involved in a hull loss during its time with the airline. On February 18th, 1991, G-AWND was blown up in Kuwait during the Gulf War.

The Boeing 747-200

On June 22nd, 1977, British Airways took delivery of its first Boeing 747-200. The airline operated a total of 24 passenger Boeing 747-200 aircraft that were delivered between 1977 and 1988. Not all of these aircraft were delivered new to British Airways, however. Indeed, British Airways was the fourth operator of its last -200 to be delivered, G-NIGB.

British Airways, Boeing 747, History
British Airways operated 24 passenger 747-200s. Photo: Getty Images

In Septemeber 1980, British Airways took delivery of a cargo Boeing 747-200, registered as G-KILO. However, after just a year and a half with the British airline, the aircraft was transferred to Cathay Pacific. None of British Airways’ Boeing 747-200s were involved in a hull loss while at the airline.

The Boeing 747-400

The Boeing 747-400 is the British Airways 747 that most people know today. Indeed, it is the only type still in service with the British flag carrier.

British Airways, Boeing 747, Early Retirement
The airline still operates the Boeing 747-400. Photo: Getty Images

The airline’s first 747-400 was delivered in June 1989. The aircraft, G-BNLA, flew with the airline for almost 30 years until 2018 when it was scrapped in Victorville, California. British Airways operated a total of 57 Boeing 747-400 aircraft. This means that, in total, the airline has operated 100 passenger 747s and one cargo 747.

Deliveries of British Airways 747-400s took place for ten years until April 1999. As such, the airline’s youngest aircraft is just 21 years old. Three of the Boeing 747-400 fleet received retro liveries in celebration of the airline’s anniversary last year. Each wears a former 747 livery. One wears the -100s BOAC livery, another the airline’s Negus livery. Finally, one wears the Landor livery in which it was initially delivered in 1993.

British Airways Aircraft in the 100 year heritage liveries
BA unveiled four heritage liveries to celebrate its journey over the past century. Photo: British Airways

Only one of the airline’s -400 aircraft has been written off while in the care of the airline. In December 2013, an error during taxiing saw the wing of G-BNLL slice through the second floor of an airport building in Johannesburg. The right-wing was severely damaged, and as such, the aircraft was written off as damaged beyond repair.

The 747’s future

The Boeing 747 has been a part of British Airways for half of its 100-year history. However, this chapter of the book is set to close shortly. The airline’s entire 747 fleets had been earmarked for retirement over the next four years.

It was due to be replaced with the new Boeing 777X. However, the current crisis has changed everything. When it released its first-quarter financial results, IAG revealed that it was assessing the early retirement of the Boeing 747 fleet.

Teruel, Aircraft Graveyard, Photos
Unfortunately, the future looks bleak for the airline’s jumbo jets. Photo: Getty Images

While most of the airline’s Concorde fleet can now be found at museums across the world, most of the airlines 747s will likely be scrapped. Hopefully, at least one of the British queen of the skies can be saved to become a museum piece like Concorde.

What’s your favorite memory of the British Airways Boeing 747? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!