By Lina Saigol
AFP via Getty Images
British Airways has said it will retire all of its Boeing 747s, as it struggles to cope with the unprecedented slump in travel demand during the coronavirus pandemic, marking the end of an era for the iconic jumbo jet.
The move will mean removing all 31 of its 747-400 planes out of its wider fleet of 300 aircraft, four years earlier than it had originally planned.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect,” a BA spokesperson said.
“It is unlikely our magnificent ‘queen of the skies’ will ever operate commercial services for British Airways again due to the downturn in travel caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic,” the spokesman added.
BA, which is owned by IAG /zigman2/quotes/208070069/delayed UK:IAG -2.44% , took delivery of its first 747-400 plane in July 1989, and is currently the world’s biggest operator of 747-400s. Shares in IAG were down almost 3% in early morning London trading at 10.15am GMT.
The airline had originally planned to retire the jumbo jets by 2024 and gradually replace them with newer, more efficient twin-engine jets like the Boeing /zigman2/quotes/208579720/composite BA -3.81% 787 Dreamliner and Airbus /zigman2/quotes/208224336/delayed FR:AIR -1.08% A350.
At its height, the airline had a fleet of 57 747-400s, the second-biggest operator in the world of this type of aircraft. Japan Airlines /zigman2/quotes/205473761/delayed JPNRF +2.48% had more than 100 in its fleet. Initially, the upper deck contained a lounge, with lounge chair seating. It was known as the ‘club in the sky.’
The wings of a 747-400 span 213ft and are big enough to accommodate 50 parked cars. The tail height of 64ft is equivalent to a six-storey building.
BA said the planes will all be retired with immediate effect. The 747s represent about 10% of BA’s total fleet.
BA has come under intense pressure to cut costs, laying off thousands of workers, and grounding its fleet to try to avert collapse in the face of an unprecedented slump in travel demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
IAG’s boss Willie Walsh has said BA is “fighting for survival,” and the airline doesn’t expect international travel demand to return to 2019 levels until 2023.
BA’s restructuring plan, which includes cutting 12,000 jobs, about 30% of its workforce, has come under criticism for its “fire and rehire” tactics, causing lawmakers across political parties to press U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to review the carrier’s prized landing slots at airports, including London Heathrow.
In a bid to raise cash, the airline is also auctioning some of its art collection, selling 17 paintings and prints by artists such as Bridget Riley, Damien Hirst and Patrick Heron.