British Airways retires “queen of the skies,” the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, pointing to the sharp reduction in passenger traffic caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the crisis continues unabated, a growing number of airlines are sidelining their jumbo jets in what seems to be the end of the road for these aircraft.
The COVID-19 outbreak is having a profound impact on the aviation industry, one that is expected to last for years to come. Passenger traffic has fallen to the lowest point in history, leaving fleets parked at airports and driving airlines to cancel or defer new aircraft orders placed in better times. These low flows in traffic are expected to continue throughout the year, as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) warned the industry that 1.5 billion less people would travel by air during 2020. The significant reduction in demand is also expected to continue well into 2021 so, among other measures, airlines are adapting to lower passenger traffic by cutting their largest aircraft.
On Friday, British Airways retired its 31 Boeing 747, which compose 10 percent of its fleet, as a response to the pandemic. "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," told a British Airways spokesman to the BBC. The “queen of the skies,” Boeing’s long-rage wide-body aircraft that came into service in 1969, was the first to be labeled a “jumbo jet” and credited with democratizing air travel in the 1970s. While the 747 was highly popular decades ago, it was much less so in modern times as airlines bet on smaller single-aisle, twin-engine aircraft such as the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320. British Airways was already planning to retire its passenger jumbo jets by 2024 but its timeline was moved forward because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Boeing 747 is not the only jumbo jet whose demise was accelerated by COVID-19. The Airbus A380, a double decker aircraft named the “largest commercial aircraft in the world,” has also faced trouble due to the low passenger demand. In March, the largest buyer of the A380s, Emirates, announced it would cancel some of its pending orders, while Air France retired its nine superjumbos and Lufthansa retired half of its 14 A380s. Under these circumstances, Airbus announced that it would halt production of the A380 in 2021.