What are British Airways’ plans for the refurbishment and retirement of its Boeing 747 fleet?

We’ve received a lot of search enquiries of late regarding BA’s Boeing 747 fleet. We suspect this may be in part due to the condition of some of them! It’s an issue we have looked at previously and we thought we’d cover some of the most frequently asked questions:

1. How many Boeing 747s are in service at BA?

At present, there are 43 Boeing 747s in service. At its peak, BA had 57 Boeing 747s in service, making it one of the largest operators of the Boeing 747 in the world.

Whilst the Boeing 747 fleet is now outnumbered by the Boeing 777 family, and will also eventually be outnumbered by the Boeing 787 family, it still represents approximately one third of BA’s long-haul fleet.

2. By when does BA expect to have retired its long-haul fleet?

According to a financing document issued by BA’s parent company International Airlines Group (“IAG”) last year, it expects to have retired its last Boeing 747 by approximately 2023.

By this time, BA could well be one of the last Boeing 747 operators in the world. Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines have withdrawn the Boeing 747. Cathay Pacific and Qantas are also withdrawing their 747s from service.

However, fleet replacement plans can be fluid and market conditions and availability of new aircraft may accelerate/decelerate the retirement plan.

3. Are all Boeing 747s fitted with the latest version of BA first class?

Strictly speaking no. There are a small number of Boeing 747s that have not been fitted with the latest first class cabin. However, the cabin on these aircraft have been declassified and are operating as a three class aircraft on certain designated routes.

These routes are Vancouver (until 29 March 2015) and Cape Town (selected flights), Las Vegas and Pheonix (until 25 October 2015).

4. Are there any plans to introduce a new first class cabin on the Boeing 747?

Not to our knowledge. It is known that BA will introduce a new first class cabin (comprising eight seats) on Boeing 787-900 aircraft which are due for delivery later this year.

5. Are there any plans to introduce a new Club World business class cabin (with aisle access for all seats) on the Boeing 747?

Again, not to our knowledge. It is known that BA is likely to introduce a new Club World seat on Airbus A350 aircraft which are not due for delivery until 2017 (BA’s IAG sibling Iberia is due to take delivery of the A350 at the end of this year).

As BA’s Boeing 747s have up between 52 and 70 business class seats, it is unlikely that BA will reduce the seating density of the cabin by introducing all aisle access seating. Indeed, it is understood that the airline is to increase the Club World business class cabin to approximately 100 seats on some aircraft.

6. Are there are plans to introduce the latest World Traveller economy and World Traveller Plus economy seats on the Boeing 747?

No. 18 Boeing 747s will receive a “refresh” whereby the existing seats will be recovered with new coverings. But there are no published plans to introduce the new World Traveller and World Traveller Plus seats found on the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 and some Boeing 777 aircraft.

7. Will the inflight entertainment system be upgraded on the Boeing 747?

Yes, the 18 Boeing 747s referred to above will have a new in flight entertainment system installed. This will be a significant improvement over the current system installed just under ten years ago.

8. I couldn’t help but notice that the Boeing 747 on my last flight was in a rather shabby state. Are there any other plans to improve their interior condition?

To our knowledge only 18 Boeing 747s are to receive an interior “refresh”. This means that many Boeing 747s will be flying in their current state for some years yet. That said, the retirement of aircraft does allow for defective elements to be easily be replaced from retiring aircraft.

Unfortunately there is a track record at BA of retiring aircraft not being in their best condition when they leave the airline (see the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767). Given the current phase of very tight cost control imposed on BA by IAG, we don’t see this changing.

9. And what about WiFi?

BA has trialled WiFi on a single Boeing 747 but there have been no further announcements.

Put simply, unless a WiFi system is expected to be a significant revenue generator that will adequately cover its cost of installation, we do not expect it to be installed. This is even though many rival airlines offer in flight WiFi.

10. It is it possible that the fall in the oil price may prolong the life of the Boeing 747?

Possibly. But the efficiency gains of new aircraft are still substantial and under the current retirement plan the Boeing 747 will have been in service for over 20 years at retirement. We also do not expect airlines to make future plans on the basis that oil price will remain at its current level (or less) in perpetuity.

11. Do you by any chance have an article featuring photographs of the Boeing 747 in various liveries and numerous locations around the world?

Why for sure!

1 thought on “What are British Airways’ plans for the refurbishment and retirement of its Boeing 747 fleet?”

  1. The 747 on the Cape Town route are a disgrace. Overhead lights and in flight entertainment often not working. Interiors very tired

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