What are BA’s plans to replace and refurbish its fleet? (2018)

Updated for 2018. the latest on BA’s plans to replace and refurbish its short-haul and long-haul fleet.

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A British Airways Airbus A380 aircraft takes off at London Heathrow airport.
British Airways Airbus A380 at take off, London Heathrow (Image Credit: Heathrow)

Welcome to our updated guide on BA’s plans to replace and refurbish its short and long-haul fleet.

The information below is based on the latest plans published by BA’s parent company, International Airlines Group, in late 2017.  Much of it based on announcements at the last Capital Markets Day. It may be subject to change as these predate the acquisition of a large number of slots at London Gatwick. A revised fleet plan is usually published once a year. Of course, in the medium term, fleet plans can be heavily influenced by geopolitical and economic events.

Here’s a run through of recent and forthcoming deliveries and refurbishments by aircraft type:

Airbus A380

British Airways, First Class, Airbus, A380
British Airways First Class, Airbus A380 (Image Credit: British Airways)
BA has 12 Airbus A380s in service.

It currently operates on selected flights to destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Miami (winter seasonal), San Francisco and Vancouver (summer seasonal). It has previously flown to Boston and Washington. It will also fly to Chicago from May 2018.

BA has options to acquire a further 7 A380s direct from Airbus, which it has not exercised.

Given that BA can send up to 3 Boeing 747s a day from London Heathrow to Cape Town in January, there is arguably a case for more aircraft.

However, Willie Walsh, CEO of BA’s parent company International Airlines Group, insists that the purchase price of new aircraft is too high. IAG has raised the possibility of BA leasing second hand A380s to add flexible capacity. However, nothing has come of this yet.

Boeing 747-400

British Airways Club World Boeing 747 (Image Credit: British Airways)
BA has, at 31 December 2017, 36 Boeing 747s in service at London Heathrow.

BA now expects to retire the Boeing 747 in February 2024.   The number of Boeing 747s will reduce to 12 by 2022.

18 aircraft have been recently refurbished. These are the Boeing 747s with 86 Club World seats. These aircraft look good on the inside with new carpets and seat covers. The in-flight entertainment system is also the best you’ll find on BA.  These regularly operate on routes such as Chicago, Dallas Fort Worth, Lagos, Kuwait, New York JFK, Philadelphia and San Diego.

The remaining 747s have not yet been refurbished. However, an unspecified number are due to be refurbished this year. These are the aircraft that have 52 business class seats.  They regularly operate on routes such as Accra, Cape Town, Denver, Las Vegas, Nairobi, Phoenix and Vancouver.

Note is quite common for 52 / 86 Club World Boeing 747 routes to swap on certain dates depending on commercial demand and aircraft availability.

Boeing 777-300

BA has 12 Boeing 777-300s in service at London Heathrow.

All operate in a four class configuration. It operates routes such as Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Singapore-Sydney, Tokyo Haneda, Tokyo Narita. It seems to work very well paired with the A380 as it is on Hong Kong and Singapore.

BA is expected to lease 3 second hand Boeing 777-300 which will replace 3 Boeing 777-200 aircraft.

Boeing 777-200

British Airways Boeing 777 at London Gatwick
British Airways Boeing 777 at London Gatwick
BA has 47 Boeing 777-200s in service at Gatwick and Heathrow.

The Boeing 777 is the mainstay of BA’s long-haul operation. Whilst it has never really captured the imagination of passengers, BA plans to keep the 777s in operation for 30 years, meaning some will still be in service beyond 2030.

25 Boeing 777-200s are earmarked for “densification”. This is IAG and BA lexicon for squeezing in more seats. This means that BA will move from 9 to 10 seats across in World Traveller economy. If this is considered a financial success you can be confident that it will be extended to the rest of the Boeing 777 fleet.

BA will also reduce the number of Club World business class seats on three class Gatwick Boeing 777s from 40 to 32 seats and increase the number of World Traveller Plus premium economy seats from 24 to 52 seats. Overall, the number of seats on these aircraft will increase from 280 to in excess of 330. Here are details of the Gatwick routes on which the “densified” Boeing 777 is expected to operate in 2018.

It is also expected that First Class will be removed from a number of London Heathrow Boeing 777-200s.  BA has not yet indicated which London Heathrow routes are to be operated with “densified aircraft”.

Boeing 767

There are 7 Boeing 767s left in service.

These still (just about) soldier on a few short-haul routes at London Heathrow. It operates on selected frequencies to routes such as Athens, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Larnaca, Madrid and Stockholm. The Boeing 767 should be fully withdrawn from service by the end of 2018 at the latest.

Boeing 787-800

British Airways Boeing 787-8
British Airways Boeing 787-8 (Image Credit: British Airways)
BA has 9 Boeing 787-800 in service.

These all operate in a three class configuration, with no First Class. BA is due to take delivery of a further 4 aircraft. They operate on routes such as Baltimore, Calgary, Chennai, Hyderabad, Montreal, New Orleans, Seoul and, from next year, Nashville. The 787 also operates selected frequencies to Toronto.

The main comment this aircraft attracts is how tight the seating is in World Traveller economy. We’ve not actually sat in one of the seats but certainly from observing the cabin mid-flight on a number of flights it does indeed look very tight.

Boeing 787-900

British Airways Boeing 787-9 First Class (Image Credit: British Airways)
British Airways Boeing 787-9 First Class (Image Credit: British Airways)
BA has 16 787-900 aircraft in service, with more to be delivered.

These aircraft all operate in a four class configuration, with an 8 seat First Class cabin. It operates on routes such as Abu Dhabi, Austin, Dehli, Kuala Lumpur, Muscat, San Jose, Santiago and Shanghai. It can also operate on a number of Boeing 787-800 routes above on selected days.

Boeing 787-1000

BA has 12 Boeing 787-1000s on order.

These are due to be delivered by 2021. In total, BA is expected to ultimately have a fleet of approximately 787 family aircraft.

Airbus A350

BA is due to take delivery of the Airbus A350 aircraft from 2019.

BA currently has 18 aircraft on order. The arrival of the A350 will be anticipated, not least because it is expected that BA will finally unveil a new Club World seat which BA claims will be “top tier” and will offer direct aisle access for all. The “known unknown” is whether a more spacious Club World seat will result in the removal of First Class. Iberia is due to take delivery of the A350 this year, which may provide some clues on the layout and configuration of the aircraft.

Airbus A318

BA now has just one Airbus A318 in service, operating London City – New York JFK.

Whilst this route is well received by passengers there is clearly limited support from corporate customers to support this niche service. It is questionable how long it will last, particularly after the launch of Crossrail which will reduce journey times from Canary Wharf to London Heathrow.

Airbus A319, A320, A321

BA has 44, 67 & 14 short-haul configured Airbus A319, A320, A321 at Heathrow and Gatwick.

The number of seats on London Heathrow Airbus A320s is to be increased from 168 to 180 seats from early 2018. The number of seats on London Heathrow Airbus A321s is to be increased from 205 to 218 seats from late March 2018.

This is driven partly by a desire by BA to be as cost competitive against easyJet as possible, but also because BA has compete against other IAG group airlines to receive investment in its short-haul network.

The number of Airbus A319s is due to progressively reduce from 44 to 22 by 2022. However, this may change following the acquisition of slots at Gatwick from Monarch.

Airbus A320neo and A321neo

BA will take delivery of the Airbus A320 Neo and Airbus A321 Neo from this year.

There will be 3 Airbus A321 Neo in service this year, with a further 7 in service by 2019. There will be 10 Airbus A320 Neos in service this year, with 15, 20, and 25 in service by 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively.

The new Airbus A320 and A321 Neo aircraft are expected to have a different layout of galleys, toilets etc. to BA’s existing fleet. This principal reason for this is that the specification of this aircraft has been done not by BA, but its parent company IAG. It has adopted what it calls a “zero base” approach to specifying this aircraft. In addition, IAG has sought to have as much commonality as possibility for new deliveries of aircraft to all of its subsidiaries (Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling). This is so IAG can take advantage of economies of scale in procurement and move aircraft between airlines in less than a week should commercial demand or economic conditions dictate.

Airbus A321 Long Range

This is potentially one to watch.

The single aisle Airbus A321 LR aircraft has a range of 4,000 nautical miles which means it can reach the East Coast of the USA from the UK.

BA’s IAG sibling Aer Lingus has ordered 7 of these aircraft. BA could order this aircraft to launch new services to Africa and the Middle East from London (it has previously suspended Dar Es Salaam, Entebbe and Lusaka) or possibly reinstate transatlantic routes from UK regional airports.

Embraer E-170 and E-190

BA now has 6 Embraer E-170 and 15 Embraer aircraft in service

These are operated by its subsidiary BA CityFlyer at London City. At weekends, it also flies leisure routes from London Stansted and Manchester, and Birmingham and Bristol in the summer. Whilst this is unlikely to herald a return to regional airport operations, BA CityFlyer has clearly found a model that works for it.

One sweet spot is that due to an industrial agreement with the BA pilots union the number seats on these aircraft is capped so there is considerably more legroom than at Gatwick or Heathrow.

Also note that BA CityFlyer frequently wet leases aircraft from other airlines to support its operation at London City.

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