By Benjamin Katz 

British Airways is retiring its fleet of Boeing Co. 747s years ahead of schedule, the latest carrier to withdraw a jet that was for decades a mainstay of international travel, as the aviation industry reels from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The carrier, owned by International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, said Friday it would withdraw from service its 31 remaining 747s with immediate effect -- about four years earlier than planned -- after operating the aircraft type for close to five decades.

BA's move follows similar retirements of the jumbo jet at carriers including Qantas Airways Ltd. and Deutsche Lufthansa AG since Covid-19 struck. As the pandemic has rippled through the aviation sector, halting flights and decimating passenger demand, the industry's biggest and least fuel-efficient aircraft have quickly fallen out of favor.

Boeing has previously hinted at plans to end production of the four-engined behemoth, recognizable for its hump toward the front of the plane that houses business-class passengers. Only a few airlines still operate the aircraft, which is used for Air Force One.

British Airways' predecessor first flew the plane in April 1971 on a flight from London to New York. The airline took its last delivery of the type in 1989 and later brought the rival Airbus SE A380 double-decker into its fleet in 2007. The 747s being withdrawn currently represent about 11% of BA's total capacity.

"This is not how we wanted or expected to have to say goodbye to our incredible fleet of 747 aircraft," BA Chief Executive Alex Cruz said in a statement. "It is sadly another difficult but necessary step as we prepare for a very different future."

BA has already announced plans to reduce its head count by 12,000 employees as it tries to reshape its operations to manage the long-term fallout from the virus and its impact on the global economy. It is also selling an art collection, and its parent company is renegotiating a deal to buy Spain's Air Europa.

The Airports Council International in Europe, a trade body, recently said it expects passenger travel to recover to 2019 levels only in 2024, a year later than previously forecast.

Other carriers including Emirates Airline and Air France-KLM Group SA have also outlined plans to cut back use of their biggest aircraft, including the A380. Airbus had already started winding down production of that jet, the world's biggest, before the pandemic as demand waned in favor of smaller wide-bodies capable of operating more routes with more efficient fuel burn.

Write to Benjamin Katz at ben.katz@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 17, 2020 11:33 ET (15:33 GMT)

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