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'Queen of the skies' - British Airways to retire Boeing 747s with immediate effect

Airlines have struggled to cope with the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus crisis, and BA will operate more flights on modern, more fuel-efficient aircraft

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A British Airways special liveried Boeing 747 takes to the skies alongside the Red Arrows during the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, England. The Boeing 747 was painted in British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery to mark British Airways' centenary. Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for British Airways

A British Airways special liveried Boeing 747 takes to the skies alongside the Red Arrows during the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, England. The Boeing 747 was painted in British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery to mark British Airways' centenary. Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for British Airways

Getty Images for British Airways

A British Airways special liveried Boeing 747 takes to the skies alongside the Red Arrows during the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, England. The Boeing 747 was painted in British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery to mark British Airways' centenary. Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for British Airways

British Airways is to retire its fleet of Boeing 747s with immediate effect.

The airline has used the craft since July 1989 and is currently the world’s biggest operator of the 747-400 model.

It was planning to retire the fleet of 31 craft in 2024, but its end has been hastened by coronavirus.

The company said: “It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect.

“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.

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

“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 A350s and 787s, to help us achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

British Airways operated the plane, powered to a top speed of 614mph by four Rolls Royce engines, to destinations in China, the US, Canada and Africa.

At one point, it had 57 747-400 aircraft on its books.

The original aircraft featured 27 First Class seats and 292 Economy seats. Initially, the upper deck, widely described as the bubble, contained a lounge, with lounge chair seating. It was known as the ‘club in the sky’ and the aircraft also played host to the world’s very first flat bed seat which British Airways pioneered in 1999.

Gallery: The world's most iconic aircraft in 20 amazing images Close

A KLM Boeing 747-400 approaches St. Martin's Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). Over 1,500 of the iconic aircraft have been built and delivered since 1966.

A KLM Boeing 747-400 approaches St. Martin's Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). Over 1,500 of the iconic aircraft have been built and delivered since 1966.

A British Airways Concorde on a Christmas flight to Finland, December 24, 1987.  Photo: Mohamed LOUNES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

A British Airways Concorde on a Christmas flight to Finland, December 24, 1987. Photo: Mohamed LOUNES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The first powered flight, made by Orville Wright on 17 December 1903 near Kill Devil Hill, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Wright can be seen lying on the lower wing of the 12 horse- power, chain-driven Flyer I. The flight lasted for about 12 seconds, covering a distance of 36.5 metres (120 feet) at an airspeed of 48 kilometres/ hour (30 miles/hour), a groundspeed of 10.9 kilometres/hour (6.8 miles/hour) and an altitude of 2.5-3.5 metres (8-12 feet). Photo: Getty Images/Science Photo Libra

The first powered flight, made by Orville Wright on 17 December 1903 near Kill Devil Hill, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Wright can be seen lying on the lower wing of the 12 horse- power, chain-driven Flyer I. The flight lasted for about 12 seconds, covering a distance of 36.5 metres (120 feet) at an airspeed of 48 kilometres/ hour (30 miles/hour), a groundspeed of 10.9 kilometres/hour (6.8 miles/hour) and an altitude of 2.5-3.5 metres (8-12 feet). Photo: Getty Images/Science Photo Libra

Getty Images/Science Photo Libra

An Aer Lingus Super Constellation, known as the Super Connie. The propeller-driven were built by Lockheed Corporation between 1943 and 1958 at Burbank, California.

An Aer Lingus Super Constellation, known as the Super Connie. The propeller-driven were built by Lockheed Corporation between 1943 and 1958 at Burbank, California.

The world's largest plane, Antonov An-225, which is paid a flying visit to Shannon Airport in 2015. Photo: Deposit

The world's largest plane, Antonov An-225, which is paid a flying visit to Shannon Airport in 2015. Photo: Deposit

A Qantas A380 flies over Sydney, Australia

A Qantas A380 flies over Sydney, Australia

Foynes Flying Boat Museum: Home to the world's only replica B314 flying boat (produced from 1938-1941).

Foynes Flying Boat Museum: Home to the world's only replica B314 flying boat (produced from 1938-1941).

A Douglas DC-3. Photo: Getty

A Douglas DC-3. Photo: Getty

Getty Images

A Boeing 727 'trijet' with its distinctive third middle engine. Photo: Getty/Bettmann Archive

A Boeing 727 'trijet' with its distinctive third middle engine. Photo: Getty/Bettmann Archive

Bettmann Archive

Iolar ('eagle'), the first Aer Lingus aircraft, a DH84 Dragon EI-ABI that flew from Baldonnel to Bristol on May 27, 1936.

Iolar ('eagle'), the first Aer Lingus aircraft, a DH84 Dragon EI-ABI that flew from Baldonnel to Bristol on May 27, 1936.

Pictured with the Iolar at Bristol airport are Aer Lingus cabin crew Laura Mc Cabe and Catherine McDonnell, both wearing the very first Aer Lingus uniform worn by cabin crew in 1945. Photo: Dan Regan

Pictured with the Iolar at Bristol airport are Aer Lingus cabin crew Laura Mc Cabe and Catherine McDonnell, both wearing the very first Aer Lingus uniform worn by cabin crew in 1945. Photo: Dan Regan

Air Force One, the most iconic 747 of all?

Air Force One, the most iconic 747 of all?

REUTERS

Aeroflot's turboprop airliner IL-18. (Photo by Rykoff Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Aeroflot's turboprop airliner IL-18. (Photo by Rykoff Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Corbis via Getty Images

A BOAC (British Overseas Airway Corporation) Vickers VC-10 photographed at London Heathrow. The narrow-body aircraft first flew in 1962. Photo: Ken Fielding/Wikimedia Commons.

A BOAC (British Overseas Airway Corporation) Vickers VC-10 photographed at London Heathrow. The narrow-body aircraft first flew in 1962. Photo: Ken Fielding/Wikimedia Commons.

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner takes off. The now-iconic aircraft first launched in 2007. Photo: Boeing.com

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner takes off. The now-iconic aircraft first launched in 2007. Photo: Boeing.com

Chantilly- USA: A Boeing 307 Stratoliner Flying Cloud on Display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The then-futuristic airliner first took to the skies in 1938.

Chantilly- USA: A Boeing 307 Stratoliner Flying Cloud on Display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The then-futuristic airliner first took to the skies in 1938.

A Fokker 100 at Aviodrome aerospace museum in the Netherlands. It was the largest jet airliner built by Fokker before its bankruptcy in 1996. Photo: Deposit

A Fokker 100 at Aviodrome aerospace museum in the Netherlands. It was the largest jet airliner built by Fokker before its bankruptcy in 1996. Photo: Deposit

23rd January, 1975: A newer, longer Douglas DC9 takes off on its maiden flight. Photo: Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images

23rd January, 1975: A newer, longer Douglas DC9 takes off on its maiden flight. Photo: Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images

Getty Images

A British Airways Concorde takes off from Heathrow airport in London, 2001. Photo: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

A British Airways Concorde takes off from Heathrow airport in London, 2001. Photo: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images

In 2014, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary landed at Dublin airport with the first of Ryanair's new Boeing 737-800 NG aircraft from Seattle. The aircraft has become a staple for Irish travellers.

In 2014, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary landed at Dublin airport with the first of Ryanair's new Boeing 737-800 NG aircraft from Seattle. The aircraft has become a staple for Irish travellers.

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A KLM Boeing 747-400 approaches St. Martin's Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). Over 1,500 of the iconic aircraft have been built and delivered since 1966.

UK airlines have struggled to cope with the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus crisis, with easyJet, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic all announcing job cuts and reduced operations.

Meanwhile, demand for air travel will take longer to return to pre-pandemic levels than initially expected, according to the latest industry forecast.

Trade body ACI Europe, which represents European airports, said it does not expect passenger numbers to recover until 2024, one year later than it predicted in May.

This comes after figures for June show the increase in air travel following the easing of coronavirus restrictions has been slower than anticipated.

Passenger traffic across European airports last month was down 93% compared with June 2019.

This was an improvement on the 98% year-on-year decline recorded in May, but highlights how far the industry has to go to recover from the pandemic.

BA Boeing 747 facts:

  • BOAC flew its first 747 flight on 14th April 1971
  • British Airways took delivery of its first 747-400 in July 1989 and its last in April 1999
  • At its height, the airline had a fleet of 57 747-400s
  • British Airways is currently the world’s biggest operator of 747-400 aircraft
  • The 747-400 has 6ft high winglets on the tips of its wings to improve efficiency
  • It has 16 main wheels and two landing nose wheels
  • 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
  • The 747-400 is 231ft long

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