Could COVID Mean The End For British Airways’ Boeing 747s?

British Airways had intended to retire its fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft across the coming years. However, with other airlines speeding up aircraft retirements, could the BA 747 meet an early end?

British Airways, Boeing 747, Early Retirement
Could the current virus cause British Airways to retire the ‘Queen of the Skies’? Photo: British Airways

The Boeing 747 is arguably the most iconic aircraft in the current British Airways fleet, only surpassed by the now-retired Concorde. However, like the Concorde, all good things have to come to an end. The British flag carrier had already planned for the retirement of the Queen of the Skies before the current crisis. However, the unprecedented situation means that actions not previously thought probable could now be taken across the industry.

Early retirement for the Queen?

While it’s an awful thing to think about, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that British Airways could give the Queen of the Skies an early retirement. Let’s take a look at the reasons why.

Many European airlines are now starting to suggest that they expect passenger demand to take 2-3 years to recover. Airlines that have stated this include Austrian Airlines and Finnair. If these predictions are true, then less capacity is going to be needed in the meantime.

British Airways Boeing 747, Retirement
British Airways retired 5 Boeing 747s in April. Photo: Getty Images

As a result, airlines won’t need so many aircraft during this period. If they were going to get rid of some, it would make sense to start with those that are already on the way out. In the case of British Airways, we know that it was planning to retire its last 747s in 2024 at the latest.

Following other airlines?

The Lufthansa Group is one of IAG’s main rivals in Europe. Airlines across the group have already committed to retiring aircraft as a result of the current crisis. Specifically, Lufthansa is retiring seven A340-600s, six A380s, and five Boeing 747-400s.

Now, British Airways realizes that demand will take time to return, and in the meantime, it will need to downsize. Just yesterday, it was announced that the airline could shrink its employee base by up to 12,000 in response to the current crisis.

If the airline is looking to downsize its staff pool, it would be logical to assume that the fleet will also be downsized. As the Boeing 747 was already being phased out and is one of the larger British Airways aircraft, it would make sense to target this aircraft.

British Airways, Boeing 747, Early Retirement
For many years the Boeing 747 has been an icon of the British Airways fleet. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Since the airline began to ground flights as a result of the current crisis, it has already sent five of its 747 aircraft to Kemble Airport. These five won’t fly again. However, Simple Flying understands that they were already earmarked for retirement.

Additionally, the airline recently flew five aircraft to Teruel Airport in Spain. This is an aircraft graveyard, where Lufthansa is sending some aircraft to be retired. While Simple Flying believes that British Airways intends to fly these aircraft again, it would be easy to withdraw these too.

Do you think that the current situation will lead to British Airways retiring the Queen of the Skies early? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.