Welcome to our updated guide to British Airways’ plans to refurbish and renew its short and long-haul fleet.
Following COVID-19, BA has changed its aircraft retirement and renewal plans. COVID-19 has cut the size of BA’s fleet by more than 10% with aircraft reduced from 305 to 277.
In 2020, wide body aircraft decreased by 24 from 135 to 111 aircraft. This was accounted for by the retirement of 32 Boeing 747 and 3 older Boeing 777-200 aircraft. This was offset by new deliveries of 5 Airbus A350-1000, 4 Boeing 777-300ER and 2 Boeing 787-10 aircraft.
At 31 December 2020, BA still had 10 Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 787-10 aircraft and 18 Boeing 777-900 aircraft to be delivered. In all likelihood these will be delayed. Options to acquire a further 36 Airbus A350-100 and 24 Boeing 777-900 are unlikely to exercised. The airline has previously allowed options to acquire a further 9 Boeing 787-9 aircraft to lapse.
The movement in short haul aircraft is more modest, with the fleet decreasing by just 2 to 166 aircraft. The airline continues to retire Airbus A319 aircraft and withdraw the Embraer E170 at London City.
At 31 December 2020, BA had just 9 Airbus A320neo and 3 Airbus A321neo aircraft left to be delivered. It still has options to acquire a further 10 Airbus A320neo aircraft, having allowed around 20 other options to lapse.
There are of course huge unknowns as to how many remaining aircraft will actually be brought back into service. In its base assessment on the planned return to service capacity in the first quarter of 2022 is expected to be 17% below the first quarter of 2019. A given plausible alternative scenario is a 61% reduction in capacity.
In the medium term, there is the question of whether the airline sees the Airbus A321 LR and XLR aircraft having a role. BA’s fellow IAG subsidiary Aer Lingus had ordered 8 A321 LR and 6 A321 XLR aircraft. Iberia had also ordered 6 A321 XLR aircraft.
A number of short haul aircraft have been retired in 2020 including BA’s last remaining Airbus A318 aircraft and all but one Embraer E170 aircraft.
At its parent company level, IAG’s fleet of aircraft reduced from 598 to 533 in 2020 with short haul aircraft cut from 394 to 367 aircraft and long haul aircraft cut from 204 to 166. These changes do not affect IAG’s Letter of Intent to acquire the Boeing 737 MAX.
In 2021, IAG expects to take delivery of 5 short haul and 10 long haul aircraft. Deliveries are expected to continue to be reduced into 2022.
Depending on how long it will take for air travel to return to normal, further changes are expected.
Here’s a run through of recent and forthcoming deliveries and refurbishments by aircraft type:
BA has started to take delivery of the Airbus A350-1000, of which there are 18 on order. As at July 2021, eight aircraft are in service.
The first Airbus A350s are in a three class configuration, with no First Class. There are 56 Club World “Club Suite” seats, 56 World Traveller Plus seats, and 219 World Traveller seats.
BA expects to take delivery of all aircraft by the end of 2023. The airline also has options for 36 more aircraft.
BA’s sister airline Aer Lingus had ordered 5 Airbus A350-900 aircraft which it has now cancelled. IAG expects to allocate these aircraft to either BA or Iberia.
BA has 12 Airbus A380s in its fleet.
These are not operating scheduled passenger flights. BA is not expected to follow other airlines in returning its fleet early. The aircraft is will return to service in November 2021. It will operate long haul flights to Dubai, Los Angeles and Miami from early December 2021.
Prior to COVID-19, it ordinarily operated on selected flights to destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Boston (summer seasonal), Chicago (summer seasonal), San Francisco, Vancouver (summer seasonal) and Washington Dulles.
BA had options to acquire a further 7 A380s which have lapsed. There was talk of BA’s leasing second-hand Airbus A380s but did not come to anything due to the cost of reconfiguring aircraft.
Prior to COVID-19, BA had planned to retrofit its new “Club Suite” to A380 aircraft from 2023.
At 31 December 2019, BA had 32 Boeing 747s in service at London Heathrow.
BA had planned to retire its last Boeing 747 in February 2024. Prior to COVID-19, it was planned that 25 aircraft would be in service by the end of 2020. 20 aircraft would be in service by the end of 2021, and 12 aircraft would be in service by the end of 2022. All aircraft have been retired.
One Boeing 747, G-CIVW, will be permanently based at Dunsfold Aerodrome where it will be used as a film set and training facility. It will eventually be opened up to the public as an exhibition. Another Boeing 747, G-BNLY, which bears the retrospective Landor livery, will also be based at Dunsfold Aerodrome.
Another Boeing 747, G-CIVB, will be permanently retired at Cotswold Airport, near Kemble. The airport plans to convert an area of its interior to be used as a private hire venue, as well as a cinema and an educational facility. It is planned that the aircraft will be open to the public from Spring 2021.
A fourth Boeing 747, G-BYGC which bears the retrospective BOAC livery will be based at Bro Tathan business park in the Vale of Glamorgan where it will be maintained by eCube Solutions.
Of the 32 747s in BA’s fleet at 31 December 2019, 17 aircraft operated with 86 Club World seats. These were all fully refurbished in 2015 and ordinarily operated routes such as Boston, Chicago, Lagos, New York JFK and Philadelphia.
The remaining 15 747s operated with 52 Club World seats. They ordinarily operated routes such as Accra, Cape Town, Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, San Diego and Vancouver.
In February 2019, IAG ordered 18 Boeing 777-9 aircraft for BA, with options for 24 further aircraft.
These were originally planned to replace 14 Boeing 747 and 4 Boeing 777-200 aircraft. These will operate in a four class configuration with 325 seats.
Prior to COVID-19, 15 aircraft were to be delivered by 2023. It is highly likely this will be delayed.
As at Janaury 2021, BA has 16 Boeing 777-300s in its fleet.
All operate in a four class configuration. Prior to COVID-19, it ordinarily operated routes such as Austin, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Singapore-Sydney, and Tokyo Haneda. It worked well paired with the A380 as it was on Hong Kong and Singapore.
The first 12 were delivered to the airline between 2010 and 2014. These feature 14 First Class seats, 56 Club World seats, 44 World Traveller Plus seats and 183 World Traveller seats.
Prior to COVID-19, BA had planned to retrofit its new Club Suite business class cabin to these aircraft and reduce the size of the First Class cabin to 8 seats.
BA has started to lease 4 new Boeing 777-300 aircraft. As at January 2021, all have been delivered to the airline. These feature a modified First Class cabin, and BA’s new Club Suite.
BA has 43 Boeing 777-200s in its fleet.
BA had refurbished its Gatwick based Boeing 777-200s, principally to increase seating in World Traveller from 9 to 10 abreast, but also to reduce the size of Club World and increase the size of World Traveller Plus. Please see here for images of the refurbished aircraft.
BA has also started a refurbishment of Boeing 777-200 aircraft at Heathrow. This includes a reduction in First Class seats on four class aircraft from 14 to 8, the installation of the Club Suite and 10 abreast seating in World Traveller. As at February 2021, around 14 Boeing 777-200 Heathrow aircraft have been refurbished.
In the medium term, it is possible that some four 4 class aircraft will be converted to 3 class.
Two Boeing 777-200 aircraft (G-YMMG and G-YMMK) have been converted to temporary cargo-only use with all seats apart from First Class removed.
BA has also retired 3 Boeing 777-200 aircraft at London Heathrow. These were known as the “odd-ball” aircraft with registrations G-ZZZA, G-ZZZB, and G-ZZZC and 17 First Class seats which typically operated to the Middle East and US East Coast.
BA has 12 Boeing 787-8 aircraft in its fleet.
These all operate in a three class configuration, with no First Class. Prior to COVID-19, they ordinarily operated routes such as Baltimore, Calgary, Charleston, Chennai, Durban, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Montreal, Nashville, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Osaka and Seoul.
BA had originally planned to retrofit its Club Suite to Boeing 787-8 aircraft from 2021. It is yet to give an updated timescale for this.
BA has 18 787-9 aircraft in its fleet.
These aircraft all operate in a four class configuration, with an 8 seat First Class cabin.
Prior to COVID-19, it ordinarily operated routes such as Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur, Mexico City, Muscat, San Jose, Santiago and The Seychelles.
BA had options for a further 6 aircraft. These have expired. BA had planned to retrofit its Club Suite to Boeing 787-9 aircraft from 2022.
BA has 12 Boeing 787-10s on order.
The first two Boeing 787-10 aircraft were delivered in July 2020. It was originally planned that 6 aircraft would arrive in 2020 with all delivered by 2023.
The aircraft is configured in four classes with 8 seats in First, 48 seats in Club World, 35 seats in World Traveller Plus and 156 seats in World Traveller. The First seat is the same as on the Boeing 787-9 aircraft.
In total, BA will ultimately have a fleet of approximately 42 787 family aircraft.
Prior to COVID-19, BA had one Airbus A318 in service, operating London City – New York JFK. A second aircraft is leased to Titan Airways.
This aircraft has now been formally retired.
Airbus A319, A320, A321
At 31 December 2020, BA had 35, 67 & 18 Airbus A319, A320, A321 aircraft in its fleet at Heathrow and Gatwick.
Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft have been subject to “densification”. The number of seats on London Heathrow Airbus A320s has been increased from 168 to 180 seats. The number of seats on London Heathrow Airbus A321s has been increased from 205 to 218 seats.
BA retired 4 Airbus A319 in 2020 and this is expected to continue.
There were 4 Airbus A321 in a “mid-haul” configuration at Heathrow, with a dedicated Club World cabin. These used to operate to Amman and Moscow Domodedovo and are currently grounded. BA has switched these routes to short-haul services, which suggests these aircraft may be withdrawn or converted to short-haul use.
Airbus A320neo and A321neo
BA is now taking delivery of Airbus A320neo and Airbus A321neo aircraft.
There are currently 14 Airbus A320neo and 10 Airbus 321neo in BA’s fleet at Heathrow.
As at 31 December 2020, BA plans to take delivery of a further 8 Airbus A320neo aircraft, with options for 10 more. BA also plans to take delivery of a further 3 A321neo aircraft.
The Airbus A320 and A321 Neo aircraft have a different layout to BA’s existing fleet. This reason for this is the specification was done by IAG. It adopted a “zero base” approach to have as much commonality as possible with its subsidiaries. This is so IAG can take advantage of economies of scale and move aircraft between airlines should economic conditions dictate.
Airbus A321 LR & XLR Aircraft
BA’s fellow IAG subsidiary Aer Lingus had ordered 8 Airbus A321 LR and 6 Airbus A321 XLR aircraft. Iberia had also ordered 6 Airbus A321 XLR aircraft.
BA has not yet placed any orders for either aircraft. It may be that it is seen as too small for long-haul routes at London Heathrow. But it could serve the airline well in opening / reinstating routes to Africa and the Middle East.
Boeing 737 MAX 8 / 10
In June 2019, IAG has signed a Letter Of Intent to order 200 Boeing 737 MAX 8 / 10 aircraft.
This was in part driven by a perceived need to introduce competition between Airbus and Boeing for short-haul aircraft at IAG.
If ordered, these will be used by BA at London Gatwick as well as fellow IAG airline Vueling. As of May 2021, this has not been converted into a firm order although IAG is adamant it still has a place in its fleet.
Embraer E-170 and E-190
At 31 December 2020, BA had 1 Embraer E-170 and 22 Embraer E-190 aircraft in its fleet.
These are operated by BA CityFlyer at London City. Prior to COVOD-19, it was planned that the number of Embraer aircraft would increase to 30 by 2021. Now only a further 2 Embraer E-190 aircraft are expected.
In the medium term, given the profile of relatively high business traffic at London City which is slow to recover, it is reasonable to expect BA’s presence at London City to remain limited in the medium term.
Subject to negotiations with trade unions, it is possible that BA CityFlyer could operate its Embraer fleet at Gatwick or Heathrow.