End Of An Era – Saying Goodbye To British Airways’ Boeing 747s

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It’s always hard to say goodbye. However, this is especially true for the British Airways Boeing 747, which has become so ingrained into history over the past 50 years. However, last night the queen’s 50-year reign came to an end as British Airways confirmed the retirement of the type.

British Airways, Boeing 747, Retirement
It’s the end of the line for British Airways’ 50 years Boeing 747 era. Photo: British Airways

British Airways has now been flying the Boeing 747 for over half a century. The first aircraft joined the airline’s predecessor, BOAC, in 1970. This was a Boeing 747-100. In the years since, British Airways has continually operated the Boeing 747, switching from the -100 to the -200 and then the -400. Unfortunately, an order for the -8 was never made, meaning the line stops here.

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Why is it time to say goodbye?

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The current pandemic has sped up the end for many aircraft. Indeed, just yesterday, Simple Flying reported that there were only 30 passenger Boeing 747 aircraft actively flying around the world. This included several Lufthansa Boeing 747-8s.

It shouldn’t come as a total shock that British Airways is retiring the Boeing 747 early. After all, the airline’s owner, IAG, previously warned that it was on the cards during its Q1 results presentation. However, as so many have become deeply attached to the type, there was tremendous hope that it would make it through the crisis.

Teruel, Aircraft Graveyard, Photos
The airline’s 747s will now only fly to their final resting place. Photo: Getty Images

Alas, it was not to be. Even though the final British Airways Boeing 747 should not have left the fleet until 2024, despite the fact that, much like the recently retired Delta Boeing 777s, some had newly been refreshed, it was time to say goodbye.

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According to a letter sent to BA staff last night, the 747 is an ‘airliner of another era’. They burn more fuel than their twin-engine counterparts and require more maintenance. This, it seems, sealed their fate, and the fate of the many avgeeks who were hoping to enjoy at least one more spin on the Queen before she retired.

Commenting on the farewell, British Airways CEO Alex Cruz said,

“This is not how we wanted or expected to have to say goodbye to our incredible fleet of 747 aircraft. It is a heart-breaking decision to have to make. So many people, including many thousands of our colleagues past and present, have spent countless hours on and with these wonderful planes.

“hey have been at the centre of so many memories, including my very first long-haul flight. They will always hold a special place in our hearts at British Airways.”

Everything happened so quickly

A year ago, nobody could’ve imagined that the aviation industry would end up where it is today. The current crisis has brought airlines to their knees on an unprecedented scale. Although demand is slowly recovering, British Airways estimates that pre-COVID levels won’t be achieved until 2023 to 2024 at the earliest.

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British Airways, Boeing 747, Retirement
Last year the airline repainted three 747s in retro liveries. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

This time last year, the British Airways Boeing 747 was the center of attention as Britain’s flag carrier geared up to celebrate its 100th birthday. The airline had repainted three Boeing 747s in historic liveries, to celebrate its heritage.

Most impressive was the Landor livery that G-BNLY received, notable thanks to the story attached. The aircraft was initially delivered in the livery in February 1993. At the time, it was named the City of Swansea. However, as times changed, along with the rest of the British Airways fleet, the aircraft was repainted into the current Chatham Dockyard livery.

In March last year, it once again donned the Landor livery and was retitled as the City of Swansea. It is now one of only two British Airways aircraft to carry a name, the other being a Boeing 787 named after the airline’s late heritage director, Paul Jarvis.

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British Airways, Boeing 747, Retirement
G-BNLY is one of only two British Airways aircraft with a name. Photo: British Airways

One last chance to say goodbye?

While the chances of flying on a British Airways Boeing 747 ever again are relatively slim, aviation enthusiasts are likely to get a chance to see them fly one last time. While some of the fleet has already been ferried to aircraft graveyards in anticipation of today’s announcement, many are still at airports such as Bournemouth, Cardiff, and even Heathrow itself.

These planes, especially those at Heathrow, will need to depart their current location for a flight to their final resting places. British Airways acknowledged this, stating,

“The airline’s jumbo jets are currently grounded at various locations in the UK and are now only expected to reach heights of 35,000 feet as they make their final journeys.”

Given this statement, it seems unlikely that any farewell flights will be conducted for the airline. This was also the case when Virgin Atlantic suddenly pulled the plug on the queen earlier this year. However, there is a slim possibility that this could be the case. Just this week, Qantas hosted a series of three farewell flights for its final Boeing 747.

Virgin Atlantic, Boeing 747, The Falcon
Many of the airline’s Boeing 747s likely have a similar future ahead. Photo: Getty Images

British Airways has yet to confirm where the final journeys of the Boeing 747 will take them. There is hope that a few could end up as museum pieces around the globe like the airline’s former Concorde fleet. If this were the case, the three retro-jets, plus a fourth Chatham Dockyard aircraft, would be perfect for the honor. However, the sad reality is that most will likely end up getting stored in the desert or scrapped.

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Looking towards the future

Now that the Boeing 747 fleet is being retired, its time to look towards a new era where sustainability and fuel efficiency are kings. The airline has been spending lots of money on a more fuel-efficient long-haul fleet, and in the past year has taken delivery of six brand new Airbus A350 aircraft, alongside Boeing 787s.

British Airways, Boeing 747, Retirement
It’s time for a new era of more fuel-efficient aircraft. Photo: Boeing

The airline also has an order with Boeing for up to 42 777Xs. Some of these were initially envisioned to replace the Boeing 747. With the current drop-in demand, having these planes on order could be a boon for British Airways, as it can take delivery of them as and when demand picks up, while not maintaining empty aircraft in the meantime. Of course, Boeing still needs to complete flight testing of the 777X before deliveries start.

Will you miss the Boeing 747? Let us know your favorite memory of the type down in the comments below!

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