The airline’s last two Heathrow-based Boeing 747 planes took to the skies Thursday morning as more than 18,000 people watched a livestream of the event. The two planes were bound for airfields in other parts of the U.K., where they will be decommissioned and stripped for parts.
British Airways, which referred to its Boeing 747s as "The Queen Of The Skies," at one time boasted the world's largest fleet of the 747-400 model with 31 aircraft. British Airways expects its last 747s, currently positioned in Wales, to leave the fleet by the end of the year.
Once the epitome of modern-age flight, with an upper deck connected by a spiral staircase, in-flight cocktail bars and other atypical amenities, airlines have been replacing their 747 fleets with quieter, more fuel-efficient aircraft - an effort accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic and plunge in business and leisure air travel.
The very first Boeing 747 made its maiden flight on Feb. 9, 1969, a year before entering service on Pan Am's New York–London route. The airplane quickly caught on with the public, who relished its size, layout and ability to move as many as 550 passengers at a time.
The farewell to British Airways’ last 747s comes as Boeing continues to struggle through the coronavirus pandemic and dramatic drop in air travel as well as other issues surrounding the grounding of its 737 MAX.
In its annual market review, Boeing said it now expects deliveries of 18,350 commercial aircraft over the next decade, down 10.7% from its previous forecast, with the pandemic expected to create minimal demand for new jets through the next few years.
The company said it still expects 43,110 commercial aircraft deliveries over the next 20 years, down only slightly from its previous forecast of 44,040, implying it believes the industry will be able to make up for lost sales in the years that follow the next decade.
Shares of Boeing were up 0.95% at $166.17 in trading on Thursday.