This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
It’s sad fact of life that the aircraft most loved by passengers are not so loved by airlines for their efficiency.
A good example is the Boeing 777-200. In terms of presence on the tarmac, it doesn’t turn heads like Concorde still does. It doesn’t have the sheer scale and imposing presence on the taxiway of the Airbus A380.
On the inside there are no favoured sections like the Upper Deck or nose of the Boeing 747. And the sound in the cabin is positively deafening compared to its Airbus equivalents.
But airlines love it.
BA ordered its first Boeing 777-200 aircraft in 1991, ordering 15 aircraft. 5 of these were known as “A” market aircraft with a shorter range (subsequently known as the odd-balls) and the remaining 10 were known as “IGW” (Increased Gross Weight Aircraft) with a longer range.
The first aircraft, powered by General Electric engines, arrived in November 1995, first operating to the Middle East.
After the Boeing 777-200 received 120 minutes ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) approval it began operating transatlantic routes from late 1996. The aircraft also began operating at Gatwick in 1998.
That year, BA ordered a further 16 Boeing 777-200 aircraft, with options for a further 16 aircraft. BA also cancelled 5 firm orders and 7 options for Boeing 747-400 aircraft as it planned to downsize capacity at London Heathrow to reduce its exposure to transfer traffic.
This was a decision that proved to be correct. Had BA continued to order the Boeing 747 its recovery from the events of 11 September 2001 and 2008 financial crash would have been much more difficult.
As it was now clear that, save for an eventual order for the Airbus A380, the future of BA long-haul aircraft was twin-engined, Virgin Atlantic put the decal “4 Engines 4 Long-Haul” on its aircraft.
Fast forward to 2019, and the Boeing 777 is now the largest single aircraft type in BA’s long-haul fleet with 46 aircraft in service across Gatwick and Heathrow.
It has for many years been the only long-haul aircraft type operated at Gatwick replacing a range of aircraft from the Boeing 747 to the McDonnell Douglas DC-10.
At Heathrow, it now touches all parts of the long-haul network from Asia to Latin America, replacing the Boeing 747 on longer range routes.
There have been incidents. One BA 777, G-YMMM, was written off after it landed short of the runway at London Heathrow in January 2008. All passengers and crew survived. Another aircraft experienced an on-board fire shortly before take-off at Las Vegas McCarran International airport in 2015, resulting in an emergency evacuation.
Whilst the 3 remaining aircraft of the five 5 deliveries in the 1990s are due to be retired shortly, the rest of the fleet are expected to be operated for 30 years, meaning that the latest 777-200 aircraft will be retired by around 2040.
BA is currently refurbishing its Gatwick Boeing 777 fleet to add 10 abreast seating in World Traveller economy.
Its Heathrow Boeing 777s will be the first aircraft to be retrofitted with BA’s new Club Suite business class cabin with 2 aircraft due to be refurbished this year.