More than half the British Airways 747 fleet is parked, with little reason to believe that it will return to the skies soon. But late on Friday another bit of news leaked out that could see the fleet fully grounded indefinitely. According to one pilot all flight crew training related to the type was formally suspended. And without that training the pilots will very soon no longer be licensed to operate the Queen of the Skies for BA.
Limited recent operations
The 747 fleet was already seeing much more limited service for British Airways in recent days. Of the 28 planes in the fleet 17 are in storage. Of the remaining 11, 10 flew at least once in April 2020. That number dropped to five in May and only four thus far in June. Further reducing the operations would not be too surprising.
Even with the spike in cargo demand from passenger aircraft BA has kept its 747s on the ground. The carrier is addressing that demand with other types. Some 100 different aircraft have flown for the company this month. Roughly half are twin-aisle planes, with the 787 Dreamliner fleet pulling the bulk of action. Some 29 of those frames registered a flight so far in June, nearly double the 15 777s that flew. Only six of the A350s have been logged in the skies this month. A single A380 turn to Johannesburg and back was also recorded at the beginning of the month.
Joining others in retiring the Queen
Should the retirement prove to be true it would be an abrupt, but not entirely unexpected end to the reign of the Queen of the Skies over the United Kingdom. BA would be joining Virgin Atlantic in retiring the type; the smaller British carrier made that official earlier this Spring.
Other quad-jets have also fared poorly in terms of remaining in service. A handful of Lufthansa‘s older 747-400s will not return to service. The German carrier also does not anticipate its A340-600s returning to service and the future of its A380 fleet remains hazy. Iberia also announced this week its A340-600s will be retired from operations. Other A380 operators are similarly planning to store those planes longer term while waiting to see if demand returns. The twin-jets are just too efficient these days for the quads to compete, especially when demand is somewhat depressed.
Negotiating with the union?
It is also possible this is a negotiation tactic given the current state of contracts and planned layoffs/redundancies. Once the dust settles from that BA could presumably reopen training, in hopes that more senior, more expensive pilots have moved on. But the drop in demand, the cost to keep the aging fleet in the air and the general inefficiency of the planes does leave that something more of an outside possibility.
A favor to ask while you're here...
Did you enjoy the content? Or learn something useful? Or generally just think this is the type of story you'd like to see more of? Consider supporting the site through a donation (any amount helps). It helps keep me independent and avoiding the credit card schlock.
I think my last flight on a 747 has already happened. Lufthansa seems like my only hope and I doubt I will be flying them any time soon. Of course, there are others, like Korean Air or Air China, but I don’t expect to fly them.
When I last was aboard a MD-90, I correctly guessed “this will probably be my last and not because I’ll have a stroke”. That was in 2016.
As a counter point to that I had an aircraft change this week for JFK-LHR 14th Sept from a 777 to a Hi-J 747 so I’m not sure they are planning on putting the out to pasture too soon ( although I agree probably still ahead of their planned 2024 retirement) as there would be no reason to carry out such a change that far I’m advance of they weren’t planning on actually using the thing.
Hopefully it’ll be one of the special livery ones and will stay in place ( not be changed again)
Seth Miller says
They can still run for a while with the existing batch of pilots. But typically the currency/certification stuff comes up twice a year IIRC. Removing that training now limits future use of the fleet, though it could always be reinstated.
Not a certainty nor a specific timeline yet. But definitely a hint.
Howard Miller says
So, if the Queen’s reign at BA (sadly) is coming to an end sooner than originally planned as yet another wonderful part of our lives lost to the Covid19 pandemic, how about donating a big, beautiful, British Airways 747 for permanent display along with your spectacular Concorde, and the Space Shuttle “Enterprise”, both of which already are beloved, instantly iconic, awe inspiring, crowd pleasing testaments to one of humanity’s most extraordinary achievements, the miracle of flight, at the awesome Intrepid Air & Space Museum which is down the block from New York City’s Times Square, not to mention steps away from our soon to be much larger than the already large Javits Convention Center, breathtaking High Line Park, and the many new ‘super tall’ towers rising in Hudson Yards instead of just letting this magnificent flying machine that literally revolutionized air travel, and which British Airways once had among the biggest fleets in the world, be sold off for hacking apart into little bits until there’s nothing left except a sad, depressing, carved up, carcass rotting in a boneyard for however long until its finally crushed into nothing that can dutifully represent how much the 747 changed so many lives – and in many ways allowed British Airways to become the global airline it is today and has been for much of the nearly 50 years the Queen loyally served BA?!?!
Just a thought…
Seth Miller says
She’s gone. Hardly a surprise at this point.
As for putting it on the deck of the Intrepid, keep in mind just how massive the 747-400 is compared to Concorde or a Space Shuttle. Concorde is 200 feet long with an 84 foot wingspan. The -400 is only 30 feet longer but features a 211 foot wingspan. It takes up a ton of space.
There will be plenty of them in museums around the world. I’m not sure Intrepid is the correct place fr one.
Howard Miller says
Thanks for your thoughtful reply!
Actually, while the Space Shuttle Enterprise is housed in a temperature controlled, enclosed structure aboard the USS Intrepid, British Airways’ Concorde is on permanent display outside, at the farthest end of Pier 85 jutting into the Hudson River that extends the entire length of the Intrepid, complete with an outdoor, park-like atmosphere featuring trees and benches.
For sure the weight, length and wingspan would pose challenges given the dimensions and probably the load bearing capacity of the pier.
However, as with anything, with the will, and a patron/benefactor (other than BA) of the museum willing to sponsor the upgrades needed (and/or expand Pier 85) to allow for a 747 to be included among Concorde and the Space Shuttle Enterprise on permanent display, it most certainly earned its place beside the two other examples of aviation and aerospace’s greatest accomplishments on display at the Intrepid Air & Space Museum.
Sure, it’s the longest of long shots, and not likely to happen.
But, at the same time, with the two marquee aviation/aerospace treasures there, plus of course, the many other historic aircraft and helicopters displayed at the Intrepid Air & Space Museum, adding a 747 to an already popular museum that’s literally steps away from the “Crossroads of the World” – Times Square – also affords vastly increased opportunities for adults, children and tourists alike for generations to come to have a chance to step aboard Boeing’s iconic, and incomparable, “Queen” long after the last 747 is withdrawn from passenger service, close their eyes, and imagine what it was like to have flown aboard the Queen during her 60-65 years of service (or thereabouts assuming the handful of remaining -8i 747s at Air China, Korean Airlines and Lufthansa soldier on for another 10-15 years) at a convenient, and accessible, center city location instead of at aviation museums that are not nearly as centrally located, and in cities that have much smaller metropolitan area populations, or attract a fraction of the tourists than NYC’s 61.5 million in 2018.
But again, your point about the 747’s dimension and space constraints at the Intrepid Air & Space Museum are well taken as it’s not far from my home in NYC, and for sure, most of Pier 85 is already spoken for!
Then again, riverfront parks and creative/adaptive reuses/repurposing for the many disused and abandoned piers that were the lifeline for New York City’s economy until the dawn of the jet age displaced the ocean going vessels for trans-oceanic passenger travel which the piers served, and of course, gigantic container ships that could no longer fit into the smaller piers that were located shallower waters, are also a big part of NYC’s post-industrial/post-manufacturing reinvention, with Google expanding into offices (320,000 sq ft) and community space (50,000 sq ft) totaling 370,000 sq ft at Pier 57 (just below Chelsea Piers) at West 15th Street, or of course, famed architect Thomas Heatherwick’s brilliant 2.7 acre “Little Island” Park at Pier 55 that’s currently under construction adjacent to Google’s new offices and community space at Pier 57.
Like I said, just a thought – and of course, the hopes and dreams of a die-hard 747 fan who still cannot imagine a world without Her Majesty the Queen soaring through the skies seeing as none of her “replacements” are anywhere near as beautiful and graceful as she is, and few, if any of her alleged “replacements” bring the magic and awe inspiring of air travel itself to life as brilliantly as a 747 does.
If anything, most of her “replacements”, and especially Boeing’s hideous and horrible 10-abreast 777s, or its equally loathsome 9-abreast 787s aren’t so much as replacements for the mighty 747, as they’re cheap, wannabe imposters who’ll never be able to take their place beside the Queen as long as they’re configured with those nasty, overcrowded, cabins featuring teeny, tiny, too small and narrow, “no legroom” (child sized) seats in Economy class.
And that’s for the “cheap seats” in steerage, since there’s not a chance business class aboard a single decked Boeing 777, 787 or Airbus A330, A340 or A350 can hold a candle to biz class on the exclusive and private upper deck or the intimacy of the nose section found only on a 747.
Not a chance any other aircraft comes close to that.
And it’s hard to imagine flying without that. 🙁
Indeed, more than any other airline’s 747 retirement to date, today’s news that British Airways has permanently retired its Queens years earlier than scheduled on account of the Covid19 pandemic feels more like the death of a beloved friend or family member than any other retirement announced by all of the other airlines in recent years.
To me, at least.