Retiring British Airways’ fleet of Boeing 747s is part of preparations for “a very different future”, according to the airline’s boss.
Chief executive Alex Cruz said the “heart-breaking” decision was necessary as the carrier looks to “reduce the size of our business” in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
British Airways’ predecessor BOAC first used the jumbo jets in 1971 for a flight from London to New York.
They were the first wide-bodied jet and revolutionised the affordability of long-haul travel.
British Airways has the world’s largest fleet of the 747-400 model with 31 aircraft.
Due to the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus crisis they were already grounded at locations across the UK, including at Cotswold Airport, Gloucestershire.
The airline planned to phase them out by 2024 in favour of smaller planes that burn less fuel, but the process has been hastened by the pandemic.
Mr Cruz said: “This is not how we wanted or expected to have to say goodbye to our incredible fleet of 747 aircraft.
“It is a heart-breaking decision to have to make.
“We have committed to making our fleet more environmentally friendly as we look to reduce the size of our business to reflect the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on aviation.
“As painful as it is, this is the most logical thing for us to propose.
“The retirement of the jumbo jet will be felt by many people across Britain, as well as by all of us at British Airways.
“It is sadly another difficult but necessary step as we prepare for a very different future.”
The number of flights British Airways operated during the first two weeks of July was down 85% compared with the same period in 2019.
Aviation consultant John Strickland told the PA news agency that the demise of the 747 was understandable.
He said: “The US market doesn’t really exist at the moment. That’s where BA substantially deploys its 747 fleet.
“Without the US peak summer programme operating and with winter being leaner, it was already looking like this fleet was going to be on the ground for quite some time.”
British Airways is planning to cut up to 12,000 jobs and has been accused by trade union Unite of planning a “fire and rehire” system involving remaining employees having their terms and conditions downgraded.
More than 100 MPs including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have backed Unite’s campaign for the airline to lose slots at Heathrow over the treatment of its workforce.
The carrier insists its proposals have been put forward with a view to consultation, adding that no decisions have been taken with regard to actual redundancies.