British Airways plans to send the first of 31 idled Boeing 747s to its final destination at a Spanish storage and reclamation facility on Tuesday. The 747-400, carrying registration G-CIVD, will depart at 9 a.m. local time from London Heathrow Airport as flight number BA9170E.
On July 17 BA said it has retired its 747s “with immediate effect,” adding that the airplanes had “likely” flown their last commercial service. The airline attributed the abrupt decision to accelerate the retirements to Covid-19 effects.
“All of us at British Airways and so many of our customers will have fond memories and special moments from our travels on the iconic jumbo jet,” said British Airways director of flight operations Al Bridger. “As a pilot who was lucky enough to fly the aircraft, the sheer scale of it was unforgettable, you literally looked down on other aircraft. It changed aviation forever when it arrived in the skies and I know I speak for our customers and the global aviation community when I say, despite rightly moving to more sustainable ways of flying, we will still miss the 747 dearly.”
Only a year ago British Airways re-painted three of its jumbo jets in heritage colors to mark the company’s centenary. By that time the airline said it had already decided to gradually remove what it called the fuel-hungry aircraft from the fleet to help meet its commitment to “net-zero” emissions by 2050. BA has invested heavily in modern long-haul aircraft including six Airbus A350s and 32 Boeing 787s, both of which burn about 25 percent less fuel per seat than the 747.
British Airways’ state-owned predecessor airline, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), operated its first 747 from London to New York in April 1971, and the first BA 747-400 entered service in July 1989. By April 1999 British Airways operated 57 Boeing 747-400s and until last month remained the largest operator of the model.
The airline’s jumbo jets now sit grounded at various locations in the UK.
In June Qantas retired the last of its six 747-400s, six months ahead of schedule, as part of a wider recovery plan. KLM flew its last 747 passenger flights at the end of May, also ahead of the scheduled 2021 departure of the airline's 747s. Lufthansa now operates the world’s largest 747 fleet, flying 19 new-generation 747-8Is and eight 747-400s.