British Airways Set To Retire Its Boeing 747 Fleet After 50 Years

It has been confirmed that British Airways will be retiring its fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft early in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, IAG mooted retiring the queen of the skies as a part of its consultation on the future of the company.

British Airways, Boeing 747, Early Retirement
British Airways looks set to retire its entire Boeing 747 fleet. Photo: Getty Images

Every airline has been affected by the worst crisis to hit the aviation industry in its history. However, each airline has reacted in a slightly different manner. One commonality throughout the sector is the retirement of larger, four-engined aircraft. Now, British Airways will look to follow its rival Virgin Atlantic in retiring its 747 fleet.

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What do we know?

It seems as though British Airways is putting in place the necessary measures to retire the Boeing 747 fleet from service immediately, as spotted by Head For Points earlier this evening. In a letter to staff seen by Simple Flying, the airline outlines its current position regarding the fleet. Crucially, the airline writes:

“With much regret, we are proposing, subject to consultation, the immediate retirement of our Queen of the Skies, the 747-400.”

British Airways, Boeing 747, History
After 50 years of British Airways Boeing 747 history, the sun is now setting. Photo: Getty Images

While this doesn’t mean that the deed is 100% done, given it is subject to consultation, the wording makes it seem as though the decision has mostly been made.

Why retire the Boeing 747?

The Boeing 747 has been serving British Airways and its predecessor BOAC for 50 years now. The first Boeing 747, a -100, was delivered to BOAC in April 1970. Since then, the airliner has been developed with the -200 and -400 also being delivered to British Airways. However, the last 747 delivery to British Airways occurred in 1999, and the aircraft were all slated to be retired by 2024.

The queen of the skies is becoming old, both physically and technologically. Aerospace technology has improved vastly since the last 747 was delivered to British Airways. This is something that the airline acknowledged in its letter.

British Airways, Team GB, Tokyo Olympics
The Boeing 747 had become the unofficial flagship of British Airways. Photo: Getty Images

The airline wrote,

“They are an airliner of another era, however, and they burn far more fuel than the latest generation of planes and, logically, require more frequent and detailed attention from our engineering team.”

The decision to retire the fleet will come as a shock to many aviation enthusiasts. Many have grown up seeing the airline’s 747s flying around the world, and there was huge interest when the airline repainted three into retro liveries last year.

Alas, all good things come to an end. British Airways acknowledged this by adding,

“The proposal to retire the fleet is nothing short of heartbreaking for those of us that grew up watching them fly all over the world”

BA concorde take off
It won’t be the only iconic aircraft that British Airways has retired since the turn of the century. Photo: Getty Images

Perhaps British Airways could follow in the footsteps of oneworld partner Qantas, who this week staged a series of three goodbye flights for its final Boeing 747 to leave the fleet.

Simple Flying has approached British Airways for comment.

Will you miss seeing the Red, White, and Blue tails of the British Airways Boeing 747? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.