British Airways said on Friday that it would retire its entire fleet of the iconic Boeing (BA) 747 jumbo jets around four years earlier than it had previously planned, citing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The airline is currently the world’s largest operator of the jet, which is affectionately known as the “queen of the skies.”
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect,” the airline said in a statement.
“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,” it said.
The 747 first entered commercial service in 1970, but British Airways did not take its first delivery of the jet until July 1989.
The airline once operated as many as 57 of the aircraft, even as airlines encouraged Boeing to produce smaller aircraft that could be used on long-haul flights.
British Airways said on Friday that the sunsetting of the 747 would allow it to operate more flights on newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft, such as the Airbus 350 and Boeing 787.
Last year, the airline’s parent company, IAG (IAG.L), became the first airline group to say it would be carbon neutral by 2050.
Earlier this month, reports suggested that Boeing is planning to stop production of the 747 altogether by 2023.
The aviation industry is confronting an unprecedented crisis in coronavirus, as airlines and manufacturers face a collapse in demand from travellers.
Despite almost bankrupting Boeing when it debuted during the 1970s, which saw a period of economic stagnation in much of the world, the 747 essentially revolutionised the economics of air travel with its large 400-seat capacity.
Airlines took delivery of more than 1,500 747s since it debuted, making it the second most-popular wide-body jet, after Boeing’s 777.
The plane’s distinctive hump was created in part so that huge cargo could be loaded through the nose of the plane’s cargo version, and was initially used to house gaudy passenger lounges with electric pianos that were accessed via spiral staircases.
But airlines quickly decided to use the space for further seating, and by the 1980s the aircraft was a mainstay of several major airlines.