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The End For the 747 at British Airways

On April 28 this year, British Airways Chairman and CEO Alex Cruz, sent a letter to British Airways staff across the company. The letter read:

'Yesterday, British Airways flew just a handful of aircraft out of Heathrow. On a normal day we would fly more than 300. What we are facing as an airline, like so many other businesses up and down the country, is that there is no ‘normal’ any longer.

The global aviation body, IATA, has said that the industry has never seen a downturn this deep before, and that full year industry passenger revenues could plummet 55% compared to 2019, while traffic falls 48%.  Many airlines have grounded all of their planes. Sadly, we will see some airlines go out of business with the resulting job losses.

Our very limited flying schedule means that revenues are not coming into our business. We are taking every possible action to conserve cash, which will help us to weather the storm in the short-term. We are working closely with partners and suppliers to discuss repayment terms; we are re-negotiating contracts where possible; and we are considering all the options for our current and future aircraft fleet. All of these actions alone are not enough.

In the last few weeks, the outlook for the aviation industry has worsened further and we must take action now. We are a strong, well-managed business that has faced into, and overcome, many crises in our hundred-year history. We must overcome this crisis ourselves, too. 

There is no Government bailout standing by for BA and we cannot expect the taxpayer to offset salaries indefinitely. Any money we borrow now will only be short-term and will not address the longer-term challenges we will face.

We do not know when countries will reopen their borders or when the lockdowns will lift, and so we have to reimagine and reshape our airline and create a new future for our people, our customers and the destinations we serve. We have informed the Government and the Trade Unions of our proposals to consult over a number of changes, including possible reductions in headcount. We will begin a period of consultation, during which we will work with the Trade Unions to protect as many jobs as possible. Your views matter and we will listen to all practical proposals.

The scale of this challenge requires substantial change so we are in a competitive and resilient position, not just to address the immediate Covid-19 pandemic, but also to withstand any longer-term reductions in customer demand, economic shocks or other events that could affect us. However challenging this is, the longer we delay difficult decisions, the fewer options will be open to us.

I want to pay tribute to the thousands of British Airways colleagues who are playing a vital role in the global response to the Covid-19 crisis. Whether you are supporting our repatriation flights or the transport of essential cargo; or one of the hundreds of colleagues volunteering with organisations such as the NHS, you have my sincere respect and thanks.

This has been a difficult message to write and one I never thought I would need to send. I know how tight-knit the BA family is, and how concerned you will be, not just for yourself but for your colleagues, too. We must act decisively now to ensure that British Airways has a strong future and continues connecting Britain with the world, and the world with Britain. 

Thank you.


(via British Airways Media Relations)

(Above and top image - Kevan James)

Leaving aside the varying opinions on how British Airways (BA) have subsequently handled staff reductions (as all airlines have done), news that the airline will now withdraw from use the Boeing 747 from service comes as no surprise.

The UK carrier has operated the 747 since 1970, starting with the 747-100, progressing to the -200 powered by Rolls-Royce engines and is currently the world's biggest operator of the 747-400 model. BA also operated the all-cargo version for a short time and the 'Combi' version, which could carry pallets of cargo at the rear and passengers towards the front of the cabin. The only types that have not been operated was the 747-300 and the newest, the 8i, which has not been a big sales success anyway, with most airlines moving to two-engine aircraft for passenger services. British Airways had planned to retire the remaining fleet of 31 747-400 aircraft by 2024 but its end has been hastened by the downturn in flying caused by the Covid-19 pandemic

A company statement said: "It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect. 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."

Like other carriers, the airline believes that the 747, with four engines as opposed the two found on newer aircraft, are unsustainable for the aviation industry as the Covid-19 pandemic recedes. The interiors of its 747s had recently been refurbished as part of a billion-pound upgrade program to help extend the lifespan of the fleet but the 747 was known to be going and were scheduled to be phased out progressively by early 2024. The ongoing aviation crisis however, has forced the flag carrier to retire the type immediately.

(British Airways)

The announcement comes as no real surprise as airlines across the world re-think their fleets with particular regard to four-engine aircraft. Many airlines had already retired the 747 prior to the Covid-129 outbreak and KLM quickly retired its 747 fleet from passenger operations, making the decision right at the beginning of the crisis.

Despite its steady reduction in use as a passenger aircraft, there are a small number of airlines still using the 747 on all-cargo services but BA are not one of them.

The airline also said: “The unofficial flagship of our fleet, the 747-400 has a very special place in the hearts of aviation enthusiasts and of many of us. We know how many memories of this extra-special aircraft are shared across the BA family and our proposal to retire the fleet early has only been taken in response to the crisis we find ourselves in.”

Commercial air transport has, in recent years taken a battering from a number of opponents, not least those with climate change as their agenda. Yet the industry has provided employment for untold numbers across the years. It has, at least until now, shown itself to be quite resilient. But Covid-19 and government response has and will leave scars that may never heal.

(British Airways)

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