Known as the ‘Queen Of The Skies’, few aeroplanes are as recognisable as the Boeing 747, and in half a century it has transported 3.5billion passengers and billions of tons of cargo around the planet.
But 50 years of aviation history came to an end today as the last British Airways jumbo jets left London Heathrow Airport, with two 747-400 aircraft taking off simultaneously from both runways before heading to scrapyards.
The Civil Aviation Authority granted special permission for one of the jets to fly over Heathrow at 600ft in a poignant farewell to the airport before they head onto South Wales and the Cotswolds.
Thousands of BA staff and aviation enthusiasts watched today’s 8.35am departure, which was live-streamed online. It marks a sad end for the iconic planes and a watershed moment in the history of British aviation.
Versions of the 345-seat four-engine aircraft have been in service with BA since 1971. The Mail revealed in July that the airline is to scrap its fleet of 31 747s following a collapse in passenger numbers during the pandemic.
Aircraft G-CIVB, one of the last two British Airways Boeing 747-400 aircraft, takes off at London Heathrow Airport today
A British Airways Boeing 747 leaves London Heathrow Airport on its final flight this morning
Aircraft G-CIVY, one of the last two British Airways Boeing 747-400 aircraft, undertakes a synchronised dual take off today
A British Airways Boeing 747 leaves London Heathrow Airport this morning. The retirement of the fleet was brought forward as a result of the impact the Covid-19 pandemic had on the airline and the aviation sector
Aircraft G-CIVY undertakes a synchronised dual take off on parallel runways with another 747 at Heathrow Airport today
Aircraft G-CIVY undertakes a synchronised dual take off as one of the last two British Airways Boeing 747-400 aircraft today
The last two British Airways Boeing 747-400 aircraft, designated G-CIVY (front) and G-CIVB (rear) at London Heathrow today
A Union Jack is waved from the cockpit window of one of the last two British Airways Boeing 747-400 aircraft this morning
G-CIVY and G-CIVB prepare for the final flight from Heathrow Airport today after the retirement of the airline’s 747 fleet
One of the last two British Airways Boeing 747-400s, designated G-CIVY, prepares for the final flight from Heathrow today
BA bosses are thought to have discussed the possibility of a low-altitude flyover of a British landmark to mark the final flight.
This would have echoed the departure of Concorde, which delighted crowds as it soared over Clifton Suspension Bridge in November 2003.
However, such a stunt was deemed too expensive at a time when BA is facing immense cost pressures. There were also concerns of overcrowding among spectators.
The two remaining jumbo jets – G-CIVB and G-CIVY- have been in service with BA since 1994 and 1998 respectively.
Although the aircraft are loved by frequent fliers and the wider public, they are notoriously inefficient compared with newer jets such as the 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350.
A Boeing 747 in British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery on March 19, 1971. The airline, now known as BA, flew its first 747 flight on April 14, 1971 before going on to become the world’s biggest operator of 747-400 aircraft
A Boeing 747 in British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery at London’s Heathrow airport on April 16, 1971
The arrival on the world stage of the giant Boeing 747 in 1969 ushered in a new era of air travel. One is pictured above in 1971
Captain Douglas Redrup of British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) stands with members of his flight crew before taking off on the first scheduled flight of a BOAC Boeing 747-100 jumbo jet from Heathrow to to New York on April 14, 1971
The first Boeing 747 to be operated by the British Overseas Airways Corporation arrives at Heathrow Airport on May 23, 1970
A Boeing 747 in BOAC livery in an undated picture. It became the world’s biggest operator of 747-400s with a fleet of 57
A passenger cabin in a Boeing 747 in an undated photograph. Known as the ‘Queen Of The Skies’, few aeroplanes are as recognisable as the Boeing 747, and in half a century it has transported 3.5billion passengers around the planet
A Boeing 747 jumbo jet is pictured next to the Concorde airliner at New York’s John F Kennedy Airport in October 1978
An undated British Airways photograph of a passenger cabin in a Boeing 747. The aircraft has now become a symbolic victim of the crisis facing the aviation industry as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Few aeroplanes are as recognisable as the 747, but now it has become a symbolic victim of the crisis facing the aviation industry as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
A top speed of just over 650mph makes the jumbo the fastest commercial plane on the planet but it is notoriously inefficient compared with newer aircraft.
Landing a 747 at Heathrow costs more than £13,000, of which nearly £4,000 is in environmental tariffs.
BA’s first 747-400 – the variant most commonly in use today – was delivered in June 1989. It flew until 2018, when it sent to a scrapyard in California.
The British Airways Boeing 747-400 G-CIVU passenger aircraft lands at London Heathrow Airport on July 14, 2018
A British Airways Boeing 747 plane zooms over the top of houses before touching down at London’s Heathrow airport
The British Airways Boeing 747-400, featuring a colourful fin, which used to be a feature of the famous jets
Plane spotters and spectators watch a British Airways Boeing 747 taking-off from London’s Heathrow Airport in 2001
The line up of British Airways 747s with the BA logo on their tails became a familiar site at airports around the world
British Airways 747 planes on the runway at London’s Heathrow Airport reading for take-off back in February 2004
BA’s first 747-400 – the variant most commonly in use today – was delivered in June 1989 and flew until 2018
Elysa Marsden, Toni Richards and Olivia Welch walk in front of a 747 at London Heathrow Airport in March 2019
The airline has operated 57 Boeing 747-400s, meaning that in total it has flown 100 passenger jumbos and one cargo version.
E nthusiasts and customers have been encouraged to share any special memories or photos of BA’s 747s at 7.47am and 7.47pm using the hashtag #BA747farewell.
Launched in 1969, the planes were considerably larger than existing airliners, with a capacity of around 550 passengers. The airline once boasted the world’s largest fleet of the 747-400 model with 31 aircraft.
Speaking yesterday, Alex Cruz, British Airways chairman and chief executive, said ‘Tomorrow will be a difficult day for everybody at British Airways as the aircraft leaves our home at Heathrow for the very last time.
Photographs taken in August show the engines on some British Airways 747-400s have been removed at Cotswold Airport
Four British Airways 747-400s are being stored at Cotswold Airport near Kemble in Gloucestershire after being retired by BA
The four planes are being scrapped and dismantled by a specialist team at Cotswold Airport, pictured in August
‘We will pay tribute to them for the incredible part they have played in our 100-year history and to the millions of customers and BA colleagues who have flown on board and taken care of them.
‘We hope that Britain will join us in sharing their memories with us on social media at 7.47am and 7.47pm on Thursday using #BA747farewell.’
The 747 fleet is to be replaced by quieter, more fuel-efficient aircraft as part of the airline’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The airline expects the last 747s, currently positioned in Wales, to leave the fleet by the end of the year.
‘Queen of the skies’: How British Airways’ Boeing 747-400 was a ‘proven performer with high reliability’
The wide body, four-engine Boeing 747-400 is an iconic part of British Airways’ fleet.
BA, which was the world’s largest operator of the Boeing 747, described the 747-400 as ‘a proven performer with high reliability’ which boasts high reliability and has incorporated major aerodynamic improvements over earlier 747 models, which have a history stretching back 50 years.
The aircraft’s life began in April 1970 when BOAC – which would later merge with BEA to form today’s airline – took delivery of its first Boeing 747-100, which was the 23rd to be constructed by Boeing, according to its line number.
BOAC then took delivery of another 14 aircraft over the next three years, with the 15th aircraft delivered in December 1973.
A Boeing 747 long-range wide-body four engined commercial jet airliner for the BOAC – British Overseas Airways Corporation flying above the UK on April 7, 1971
None of those early models remain flying today. Most were scrapped, a handful were stored, and BA’s first 747 left the fleet in October 1998, aviation publisher Simple Flying reports.
After BOAC and BEA merged, the 15 Boeing 747s was transferred to British Airways on April 1, 1974. BA took delivery of four 747-100s, bringing the total fleet size to 19.
On February 18, 1991, British Airways’ Boeing 747-100 was destroyed in Kuwait during the Gulf War, becoming the only BA 747-100 to be involved in a hull loss during its time with the airline.
BA received its first Boeing 747-200 on June 22, 1977, and the airline went on to operate a total of 24 passenger 747-200s that were delivered between 1977 and 1988. No British Airways 747-200s were involved in hull loss while with the airline.
The Boeing 747-400 is the BA model most familiar to us today, and is the only type still in service with British Airways today. BA’s first 747-400 was delivered in June 1989, and it flew with the flag carrier for nearly 30 years.
British Airways announced that its fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft, fondly known as ‘The Queen of the Skies’, are likely to have flown their last scheduled commercial service
The airline operated a total of 57 Boeing 747-400s, meaning that BA has operated 100 passenger 747s and one cargo 747. 747-400s were delivered for ten years until April 1999, making BA’s youngest aircraft 21 years old.
But the ‘queen of the skies’ will no longer don the red, white and blue of the Union Jack after British Airways retired its fleet of Boeing 747s as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The airline, which was the world’s biggest operator of the 747-400 model, had already planned to ground its fleet of 31 of the iconic wide-bodied jets in 2024.
But the pandemic, which has seen most of the world’s planes grounded for the best part of three months, has hastened its journey into retirement, especially as forecasters predict that passenger numbers will remain lower than normal, potentially for years to come.
BA’s predecessor BOAC had first used the 747 in 1971 and, as with many airlines, the plane – affectionately referred to as either the ‘jumbo jet’ or the ‘queen of the skies’ – became a symbol of the new age of mass travel to all corners of the planet.
A BA Boeing 747 flies alongside the Red Arrows during the Royal International Air Tattoo in Fairford, Gloucestershire, in July 2019
Its days have been numbered, though, in light of new, modern, fuel-efficient aircraft such as Airbus’ A350 and Boeing’s 787.
More than 1,500 jumbos were produced by Boeing, and it has historically been a commercial success for the manufacturer and the airlines.
But its heyday is long in the past and any sight of the jet, with its distinctive hump at the top, is now a rarity. Just 30 of the planes are believed to now be in service, with a further 132 in storage.
British Airways’ 747-400s have a capacity of 345 passengers and can reach a top speed of 614 mph.