What Will Replace British Airways’ Retired Boeing 747 Fleet?

For nearly half a century, the Boeing 747 has been a crucial part of the British Airways fleet. However, as times have changed and more efficient aircraft are favored, it seems it’s the end for the Queen of the Skies. With this in mind, which aircraft will the carrier use for its next era of travel?

British Airways, IAG Cargo, Boeing 787-10
With the retirement of British Airways’ 747s, which planes will take the load? Photo: Getty Images

The current COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the retirement of many aircraft. The British Airways Boeing 747 fleet was already due to be retired in the coming years. However, the death of the Queen has, sadly, been brought forward due to the current pandemic causing far lower passenger numbers.

The seating capacity of BA’s 747s

Before we examine what planes will replace British Airways’ 747s, we must first understand their seating capacity.

British Airways announced the retirement of its 747 fleet in mid-2020. Photo: British Airways

According to leading aircraft seating website, Seat Guru, British Airways up until its retirement, operated two seating layouts on its Boeing 747-400 fleet. A high J version, and a mid J version. J stands for business class, so on the high J version of the 747, you can expect more business class seats.

High J Boeing 747. 275 total seats:

  • First Class: 14 seats
  • Business Class: 86 seats
  • Premium Economy Class: 30 seats
  • Economy Class: 145 seats

Mid J Boeing 747. 345 total seats:

  • First Class: 14 seats
  • Business Class: 52 seats
  • Premium Economy Class: 36 seats
  • Economy Class: 243 seats

Short term 747 replacements

In the short term, British Airways will need to use the aircraft that it already has to replace the 747. Given the lead time associated with acquiring new aircraft, it will be a while until replacement aircraft are delivered.

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This means that, for the time being, the airline will have a smaller fleet. Travel is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024. As such, having a smaller fleet is no problem for British Airways in the interim.

BA-777-Hangar-Malfunction
The airline will fly the routes using its existing aircraft for the time being. Photo: British Airways.

Within its remaining wide-body fleet, British Airways has three types of aircraft.

  • The Airbus A350-1000 (This plane type is new to British Airways’ fleet, with the first one being delivered last year).
  • The Boeing 777 (British Airways operates both the 777-200 and 777-300 in various configurations).
  • The Boeing 787 (British Airways Operates all three variants of the 787 Dreamliner)

These are the aircraft that will stand in for the 747 for now. According to booking change emails received by British Airways customers, it seems as though the 777 is the favorite for Boeing 747 routes right now.

The Boeing 777 is set to replace many 747 routes. Photo: British Airways

An exciting future, the Boeing 777X:

Retiring the 747 is not a surprise move for British Airways. Indeed, before the pandemic, plans were already in place to address the fleet shortfall caused by their retirement. Early last year, BA placed an order for up to 42 new Boeing 777X aircraft. This comprises of 18 firm orders and 24 options.

At the time IAG’s CEO, Willie Walsh, commented,

“The new 777-9 is the world’s most fuel efficient longhaul aircraft and will bring many benefits to British Airways’ fleet. It’s the ideal replacement for the 747 and its size and range will be an excellent fit for the airline’s existing network,”

British Airways, Boeing 747, Replacement
Ultimately the Boeing 777X will replace the Jumbo Jet. Photo: Boeing

The new 777X fleet will be fitted with British Airways’ latest generation business class seat called the Club Suite. The suite is a huge step up from the business class offering on its retired 747s. The Club Suite offers direct aisle access, a privacy door, and additional comfort all around.

Club Suite
British Airways Club Suite. Photo: British Airways

Simple Flying reviewed British Airways’ new Club Suite on the Airbus A350-1000 last year.

At IAG’s Q3 results presentation last year, we learned some further details about what to expect from the 777X’s delivery. British Airways is expecting to take eight of its 18 firm orders in 2022. However, this was announced before Boeing delayed the 777X program by a year later than previously planned.

It is unclear if this will delay the delivery schedule of the 777X to British Airways. Simple Flying has contacted IAG for comment regarding the delivery schedule.

Will you miss BA’s 747s, or are you excited for the new era? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!

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