British Airways starts sunsetting 747 fleet

British Airways

British Airways (LSE: IAG) is making good on a recent announcement to ground all 31 of its Boeing 747-400 jumbo aircraft by removing the first plane on Tuesday.

The airline has operated the 747 since 1971. At one time British Airways had 57 of the jumbo jets in its fleet. Efforts to reduce fuel consumption and the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating financial impact on the aviation industry have accelerated British Airways’ effort to ground the planes.

The first plane to be retired has been part of British Airways’ fleet for 25 years. Its last flight was to Lagos, Nigeria, on April 18, and it has not flown since due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The airline estimates the plane made 13,364 flights and covered more than 50 million miles during its operational life.

The 747 is rapidly being replaced by more fuel-efficient aircraft types, some of which match or exceed the former plane’s cargo payloads in passenger configuration. British Airways’ new 787-10s offer 12 to 13 pallet and four ULD (unit load device) container positions and the 777-300s have space for nine pallet and 12 ULD container positions, compared to the 747’s six pallet and four ULD container positions.

British Airways has committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. Newer, long-range planes to join the air carrier’s fleet, such as the six Airbus A350s and 32 787s, are over 25% more fuel compared to the 747.

British Airways is not alone in its efforts to shed aging jumbo passenger jets. Air France-KLM in May removed its nine remaining A380s from service, while five 747-400s and six A380s from Lufthansa’s fleet and Delta’s 18 777s will be permanently grounded by year’s end.

In July, Boeing revealed that it will end its more than 50-year production of the 747 passenger airframes in 2022. Industry experts, however, expect the plane to remain in freighter service for years to come.

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Click for more FreightWaves/American Shipper articles by Chris Gillis.