British Airways grounds its last 747, ending an era

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British Airways retired its last two Boeing 747 airliners, marking the end of the line for one of the largest fleets of the iconic jumbos.

The planes took off from BA’s London Heathrow hub on Thursday, with their departure live-streamed for aviation enthusiasts and the generations of long-haul travelers who have flown on the hump-backed behemoths.

Airlines across the globe have been phasing out older, thirstier aircraft models as they battle to cut costs in the face of the demand slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. While hundreds of four-engine 747s were retired well before the crisis, BA had largely held on to its planes to maximize passenger numbers at capacity-constrained Heathrow.

In a nod to plane geeks everywhere, the 747-400s departed with the flight numbers BA747 and BA400.

One of the jumbos, 22-year-old G-CIVY, flew for 51 minutes to BA’s maintenance depot in St Athan, Wales, and faces being scrapped. The other, 26-year-old G-CIVB, took the even shorter trip to an aircraft boneyard at Kemble in England’s Cotswold hills, though won’t immediately be broken up.

Qantas Airways Ltd. retired its last 747 in July, with the Australian company selling stocked drinks carts for $1 000 after stripping them from grounded jets. Carriers are also evaluating the future of the even bigger and newer Airbus SE A380, with Air France announcing the retirement of its superjumbo fleet.

British Airways had the largest fleet of 747-400s, with 28 planes as of July, all of them grounded, according to aviation data provider Cirium. Deutsche Lufthansa AG had four more jumbos, though the tally included newer 747-8Is. The German carrier had nine of its planes in service as of Wednesday.

All told there are now only 35 747s in passenger service and a further 122 in storage, Cirium figures show. The model is now predominantly a cargo plane, with 298 in service carrying freight.

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