Currently, Virgin Atlantic operates a fleet of eight Boeing 747-400 aircraft. However, during an event centered on the new incoming Airbus A350s, airline CEO Shai Weiss revealed that the retirement process of their 747 fleet will be complete by 2021. So what will happen to these Queens of the sky? Let’s examine the situation and options…
About the fleet
The Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747s have a capacity to seat 455 passengers. The cabin is configured with 14 Upper Class seats in the nose of the aircraft and 66 premium seats behind Upper Class, as well as at the front of the top deck. Finally, there are 375 economy seats in the remainder of the aircraft.
According to Airfleets, almost all of these jumbo jets arrived between 1996 and 2001. One stands out on the list as delivered in 2012. However, it was originally delivered to Virgin Atlantic in 2001, then spent 2009-2012 with Bolivian airline Aerosur only to rejoin the fleet afterwards.
Airfleets also shows that two of these aircraft are leases. One is listed as coming from International Lease Finance Corporation while the other is shown as a lease from GE Capital Aviation Services.
Where will they go?
It’s obvious for the leased aircraft that they will return to their lessors. With the age of these jets its unlikely they will see passenger service ever again. However, leasing companies also deal with cargo planes. Therefore, the Boeing 747-400s could in fact be converted into cargo variants to serve out the rest of their usable lifespans.
As for the other six jets, these may spend some time in storage while the airline looks for a buyer. According to Traveller.com.au, “there are dozens of facilities around the world where retired planes are kept in storage or to have their parts removed and reused or sold”.
Buyers may also convert the jets into cargo variants – or simply dismantle them for scrap and spare parts. It’s improbable that any of these would become the next airplane hotels – but we can still dream, right?
Finally, some of these jets may join the ranks of Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit. This has already been exemplified by one Virgin Atlantic 747: Cosmic Girl. The aircraft was converted to take satellite-launching rockets to 35,000ft where the rockets will be deployed, making their way into orbit. In fact, the first launch test took place this past July.
The replacement: the new Airbus A350-1000s
Filling the long-haul capacity void left by the 747 retirement are the 12 new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft ordered by the airline. The order, which was placed at the Farnborough Airshow in 2016, are the airline’s first new type since the 787 was delivered four years ago. The planes will also fill the lost capacity of retired Airbus A340s.
As Boeing 747s continue to be retired it will be interesting to see where they all end up. Hopefully not collecting dust in the middle of a desert! Do you have any fond memories aboard a Virgin Atlantic 747? Let us know in the comments!