British Airways has confirmed plans to retire its fleet of just over 30 B747 jumbos, citing the downturn in travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

It is understood the carrier outlined the plans in a letter to staff this week, and BA has provided Business Traveller with the following statement:

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect.

“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.

“While the aircraft will always have a special place in our heart, as we head into the future we will be operating more flights on modern, fuel-efficient aircraft such as our new A350s and 787s, to help us achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

BA took delivery of its first B747-400 in July 1989, with the last aircraft joining the fleet in April 1999. It is currently the largest operator of the B747 with 31 of the aircraft in its fleet at an average age of 23 years, and had prior to Covid-19 had planned to retire the fleet by 2024.

Business Traveller has published many Tried and Tested reviews of BA’s B747 service over the years, the last in 2017 when the carrier began rolling out its new food and beverage service in Club World.

Last year BA unveiled three of its jumbos in retro liveries, as part of the carrier’s 100th anniversary celebrations.

The big picture: British Airways unveils B747 in retro Negus livery

Commenting on the news Alex Cruz, British Airways’ chairman and CEO, 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.

“So many people, including many thousands of our colleagues past and present, have spent countless hours on and with these wonderful planes – they have been at the centre of so many memories, including my very first long-haul flight. They will always hold a special place in our hearts at British Airways.

“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 airline joins a number of other carriers retiring their ageing B747 fleets, including Australian flag carrier Qantas, which is operating the last of three “farewell jumbo joy flights” today (July 17).

Qantas announces B747 farewell flights

In other news, various tweets this show one of BA’s A380 aircraft returning to Heathrow from storage, raising hopes that the carrier’s superjumbo might resume commercial service in the near future.