On 11 August 2014, flight BA78 arrived at London Heathrow from Accra in Ghana. For the aircraft operating the route, a Boeing 747-400 (registration G-BNLI), this was its last passenger flight after more than 24 years’ service at the airline.
G-BNLI is the 11th 747 to be withdrawn from service at BA. This marks a continuation of a process that started some five years ago.
The 747s were initially withdrawn in response to the financial crisis, but more recently to be replaced by more efficient Boeing 777-300s and Airbus A380s which have seen the BA 747 removed from routes such as London Heathrow to Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Sydney.
BA is by no means the only airline to be withdrawing the 747. Singapore Airlines withdrew passenger 747s from service two years ago. Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand are close to withdrawing the 747 entirely. Qantas and Virgin Atlantic are also reducing their 747 fleets.
In 2008, BA had some 57 747s in service (all delivered between 1989 and 1999). Now it has 46. By 2018, there will be 31 747s in the fleet. The aircraft should be withdrawn entirely from service at around 2023, by which time BA could be one of just a few passenger 747 operators in the world.
As well as being a symbol of the availability of affordable long-haul travel to the masses, the BA 747 was popular, particularly for the upper deck bubble which afforded its 20 Club World business class passengers an experience not that far removed from a private jet. The first class cabin was also popular for the lack of passing traffic through the nose of the cabin.
The 747 continues to ply routes such as Dallas Fort Worth, Mexico, Pheonix, Sao Paulo and San Francisco. It also shares many other high frequency transatlantic routes such as Boston and New York with the 777.
As the 747 has nearly ten years’ service left in BA, the unanswered question is what BA will do to the remaining aircraft.
As anyone who has travelled on a BA 747 recently can testify, many aircraft are showing their age internally. The seats in the World Traveller economy and World Traveller Plus premium economy cabins have not been replaced for some time. The in flight entertainment system is relatively unstable and the difference between these cabins on newer aircraft is stark.
BA has indicated that it may reconfigure some 747s to increase Club World business capacity beyond the current maximum of 70 seats, but nothing has been confirmed about any other refurbishments. It seems implausible this cannot be addressed given that many 747s have close to ten years’ service left.
[Edit: BA has confirmed that 18 aircraft are to be “refreshed”.]
Whilst we will be sad to see them go, the time has come for the 747 to be replaced. And it is not certainly not an aircraft that could ever be accused of not proving its worth.
Finally, on a more positive note, we take a look at some images of the 747 operating charter and passenger flights around the world over its life at BA:Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
A 747 taxing at London Heathrow airport.Embed from Getty Images
A 747 in the “Landor” livery on 17 April 1990 over Prince Edward Road on approach of Kai Tak international airport in Hong Kong. The Kai Tak airport in urban Kowloon was closed when a new airport at Chek Lap Kok on outlying Lantau island was opened in July 1998.Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
Three 747s showing the controversial “Utopia” tailfins which were rather unfortunately dubbed as “ethnic” tailfins. The 747 pictured adjacent to the Qantas 767 at Sydney was the “Chelsea Rose” tailfin. The “Utopia” tailfins were intended to position BA as world airline. Following a publicity backlash after the late Margaret Thatcher covered a model tailfin in a handkerchief, the “Utopia” tailfins were replaced with the current Chatham Dockyard tailfin, pictured 3rd front.Embed from Getty Images
The British and Chinese flag fly side by side from the cockpit roof of a 747 that carried the Prince of Wales to Hong Kong 28 June 1997, in advance of the official handover ceremony of Hong Kong to China on 30 June 1997 after 156 years of British rule.Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
The England team holding aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy on the stairs of a 747 named “Sweet Chariot” on departure of the England rugby team at Sydney International Airport on 24 November 2003. The England rugby team departed Sydney victorious after winning the Rugby World Cup defeating Australia 20:17 in the final.Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
Members of Team GB at Heathrow airport prior to their departure for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing on 30 July 2008. The 43-strong team flew out to Beijing on a 747 named “Pride” after Team GB’s Lion Olympic Mascot.Embed from Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions tour team departing on a South Africa bound “Air Force Scrum” for a 10-match, three-test Tour Heathrow Airport on 24 May 2009.Embed from Getty Images
A 747 bearing a soccer ball nose cone for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
Aid being loaded onto a BA World Cargo aircraft at Stansted International Airport, bound for Haiti in 2010.Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
A 747 taking off from San Francisco International Airport on 20 September 2013. San Francisco continues to be served by the 747 twice daily. Passengers in the BA Terraces lounge at San Francisco are afforded a close up floor-to-ceiling view of the 747 taxing at the gate, as well as direct boarding to the aircraft from the lounge.Embed from Getty Images
A 747 at Pheonix Sky Harbor International Airport in Arizona, overlooked by the city’s mountains. Another route which continues to be the mainstay of the 747.Embed from Getty Images
Finally, to complete our collection, a 747 taxis as it is bathed in the golden glow of sunrise on 7 June 2010 at O.R. Tambo international airport in Johannesburg.