“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 airline, a unit of IAG SA, said in a statement.
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The carrier’s 31 Boeing 747-400 planes, which could seat 345 passengers in four classes, flew to destinations including Beijing, New York, San Francisco, Cape Town and Lagos, until Covid-19 struck and forced the airline to park them. British Airways had planned to finish phasing out the aircraft in 2024.
The pandemic has devastated the aviation industry, with governments around the world imposing unprecedented travel restrictions to try to stop its spread. Airlines have grounded much or all of their fleets as they recalibrate to the slump in demand. They’re also assessing which aircraft will best suit their needs when the market recovers to pre-virus levels, something that’s not widely expected until at least 2023.
Four-engine jumbo jets like the 747 and Airbus SE A380 have been among the first on airline chopping blocks in the wake of the travel downturn. Routes served by the 747s, which accounted for about 11% of British Airways’ fleet, will be replaced by twin-engine Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 long-haul aircraft that British Airways says are about 25% more fuel efficient. The carrier has 32 787 and six A350 in its fleet, with orders for another 10 787s and 12 A350.
Qantas Airways Ltd. is among the other carriers to recently retire the Boeing 747, offering farewell “joy flights” above Australian cities earlier this week. A handful continue to operate the jumbo for passenger services, including Air China Ltd. and Korean Air Lines Co.
“While the aircraft will always have a special place in our heart, as we head into the future we will be operating more flights on modern, fuel-efficient aircraft such as our new Airbus A350 and Boeing 787, to help us achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” British Airways said.
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Boeing will stop making the 747 soon, with the last likely to roll out of a Seattle-area factory in about two years, people familiar with the matter have said. Airbus is also moving on from the giant A380 double-decker, as airline customers turn in favor of twin-engine aircraft for long-range flights.
Unlike Lufthansa and Air France, the British Airways plans to continue flying its 12 A380 super jumbos, according to a person familiar with the matter. It also plans to continue taking new Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 deliveries on schedule, the person said, asking not to be named as the discussions were confidential.