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BA retires 747 fleet years early due to Covid-19 downturn

British Airways (BA) has said it is retiring its fleet of Boeing 747s with “immediate effect” following the downturn in air travel due to the coronavirus outbreak.

With the number of passengers coming through Heathrow down by 95 per cent last month compared with 2019, BA said it would retire its 747-400 models earlier than the original 2024 date it had set.

The company had 31 of the Boeing jumbo jets in operation at the beginning of this year, but now plans to operate flights on more modern, fuel efficient aircraft such as its new A350s and 787s.

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect,” the company said. “It is unlikely our magnificent ‘queen of the skies’ will ever operate commercial services for British Airways again due to the downturn in travel caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic.”

“While the aircraft will always have a special place in our heart, as we head into the future we will be operating more flights on modern, fuel-efficient aircraft such as our new A350s and 787s, to help us achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

Asked on Twitter whether there were any plans for a farewell tour, BA said that the planes have “probably” already flown their last commercial services.

The airline began using 747s, the first wide-bodied jet, in 1971. More than 1,500 have been produced by Boeing, and it has historically been a commercial success for the manufacturer and the airlines. But Bloomberg reported earlier this month that, after more than 50 years of service, Boeing plans to end production of the jumbo jets in around two years due to airlines turning to smaller planes that burn less fuel for long-haul flights.

Just 30 of the planes were in service as of Tuesday with a further 132 in storage, according to aviation data firm Cirium.

British Airways’ 747-400s have a capacity of 345 passengers and can reach a top speed of 614mph. It used the aircraft for flights to destinations in China, the US, Canada, and across Africa.

UK airlines have struggled to cope with the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus crisis, with British Airways, easyJet, and Virgin Atlantic all announcing job cuts and reduced operations.

The Sun reported last month that BA had reached an agreement with its pilots to sack 350 and another 300 in 'pool' for rehiring when needed. The majority of pilots being 'pooled' were expected to be the jumbo jet first officers.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is among more than 100 MPs supporting a campaign by union Unite for BA to lose some of its lucrative slots at Heathrow due to the treatment of its workforce.

On Wednesday, Heathrow introduced a cleaning robot which uses ultraviolet (UV) light to kill bacteria and viruses in a bid to make the airport safer in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

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