Last flight of the Jumbos: Final British Airways 747 takes off one more time after clocking up 45million miles as fleet is retired due to impact of Covid pandemic

  • It is the last in BA’s 31-strong fleet and was wrapped in ‘Gold Speedbird’ livery to mark the airline’s centenary
  • The jet was waved off by crowds of engineers at Cardiff airport, and landed in St Athan, Vale of Glamorgan
  • Touching down after the four-mile trip, it was met by an audience of invited guests including BA cabin crew

The last British Airways 747 took off one final time today before being retired due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The jumbo jet  – the last in BA’s 31-strong fleet and wrapped in the retro ‘Gold Speedbird’ livery to mark the airline’s centenary – took to the skies for a short, four-mile flight.

It was waved off by engineers who have proudly maintained the fleet for years at its engineering base at Cardiff airport, and landed in St Athan, Vale of Glamorgan, where it will become an exhibition piece. 

The aircraft flew around this scenic area of the Welsh coast before touching down at the commercial airfield at Bro Tathan, the Welsh Government’s 1,200 acres business park, where it was met by an audience of invited guests including BA cabin crew.

Since its maiden flight in 1999, the aircraft – registration G-BYGC – has spent more than 10 years in the air, clocking up 45 million miles – the equivalent of 190 trips to the moon.

Its last passenger flight was from San Francisco to Heathrow in April, with its retirement brought forward several years as a consequence of the pandemic.  

The last British Airways 747 took off one final time today before being retired due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic

The jumbo jet – the last in BA’s 31-strong fleet and wrapped in the retro ‘Gold Speedbird’ livery to mark the airline’s centenary – took to the skies for a short, four-mile flight

It was waved off by engineers who have proudly maintained the fleet for years at its engineering base at Cardiff airport, and landed in St Athan, Vale of Glamorgan, where it will become an exhibition piece

The aircraft flew around this scenic area of the Welsh coast before touching down at the commercial airfield at Bro Tathan, the Welsh Government’s 1,200 acres business park, where it was met by an audience of invited guests including BA cabin crew

Boeing 747-400 stats

Passenger capacity 345 

Length:  231 feet 10 inches

Wingspan:  211 feet 5 inches

Height:  68 feet 8 inches

Engines 4× Rolls Royce RB211-524H

Maximum speed: 614mph,:

Range: 8,357 miles

Sean Doyle, British Airways’ CEO, said: ‘This final 747 journey is a bittersweet moment for the many thousands of British Airways customers and crew who have flown the world on these Queens of the Sky over the last five decades.

‘But while we will certainly miss their majestic presence in the skies above, knowing our last 747 will be preserved for future generations to enjoy at a new home in Wales gives us a great sense of pride and is a fitting end to this chapter of British Airways’ history.’

Peter Dunsford, managing director of eCube Solutions, which will now house the aircraft, said the company was ‘delighted’ to receive it. 

‘This iconic aircraft has a lot of very loyal followers with fond memories and attachments to the aircraft type,’ he said.

‘As Europe’s leading provider for aircraft end of life services including component removal, disassembly and recycling, we strive to provide both airlines and aircraft owners with maximum value from a retired aircraft. 

‘We can assure everybody that this aircraft will continue to be utilised and enjoyed in many different ways for many, many years to come.’

The flight crew for this final journey were Captain Al Bridger, British Airways’ Director of Flight Operations, Captain Rich Allen-Williams, Captain Di Wooldridge and Captain Arun Sharma. 

They travelled with a pair of limited-edition BOAC carry-on suitcases created by luxury travel brand Globe-Trotter to commemorate the final 747 journey.  

May 11, 1983: Charles and Diana step from a jumbo jet at Heathrow Airport following a flight from Miami. They had returned from a 10-day holiday in the Bahamas as guests of Lord and Lady Romsey

The wreckage of a British Airways Boeing 747-136 at Kuwait City airport, after BA Flight 149 was detained in Kuwait during the Gulf War, 1991

The arrival on the world stage of the giant Boeing 747 in 1969 ushered in a new era of air travel 

Taking inspiration from the aircraft’s iconic livery, the suitcases were handmade in England and incorporate the iconic ‘Gold Speedbird’ insignia and a precious fragment from a retired British Airways Boeing 747 aircraft. 

A sister aircraft, G-CIVB was one of the last two 747s to leave Heathrow Airport in October and is now a permanent resident at Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire. 

British Airways was the largest operator of the B-747 400 until the decision was made to ground the fleet. 

In total, more than 3.5 billion people have travelled on the Boeing 747.  

The Cotswold 747 will be used as a visitor attraction, conference venue and educational facility when it goes on display at Cotswold Airport near Kemble in Gloucestershire from spring 2021.

It will not be airworthy but its inflight entertainment system will be available for use during business presentations.

The airport is asking for ex-747 pilots and crew to volunteer to maintain the plane.

After entering the British Airways fleet in February 1994, the G-CIVB model flew nearly 60 million miles.  

‘THE QUEEN OF THE SKIES’: THE HISTORY OF BA’s BOEING 747 

The wide body, four-engine Boeing 747-400 is an iconic part of British Airways’ fleet. 

BA, the world’s largest operator of the Boeing 747, describes 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 begins 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 United Kingdom on 7 April 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. 

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. 

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

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. 

Fairford, July 20, 2019: A British Airways special liveried Boeing 747 takes to the skies alongside the Red Arrows during the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo. The Boeing 747 has been painted in the airline’s predecessor British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery to mark British Airways’ centenary

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 were in service as of Tuesday, with a further 132 in storage, according to aviation data firm Cirium.

British Airways’ 747-400s have a capacity of 345 passengers and can reach a top speed of 614 mph. 

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