Last night, Tim Byatt, a captain on the British Airways 747 fleet posted the following Tweet:
Most have jumped on to the Tweet and assumed thats it for the Boeing 747 at British Airways. And the UK, following Virgin Atlantic removing the type from service last month. Admittedly, I’m leaning towards that conclusion too. Despite being told that they would not be retiring the fleet back in April, that was a very long time ago in the current climate.
However, let’s pull things apart a little.
First of all, if we look at the wording of Tim’s Tweet. He mentions that it could mark the beginning of the final chapter. Ok, so I know that the flight crew won’t necessarily know exactly what the guys in fleet planning are up to. But they likely know a little more than the average enthusiast. It could mean that the fleet is due to be reduced significantly. Currently, British Airways have 28 Boeing 747’s on their books. It could be that a significant number of them won’t return – maybe only a dozen of them to operate the New York shuttle. Indeed, making a dummy booking between Heathrow and New York JFK for December 2020 still shows a 747 to operate.
Of course, it could be a case that the timetable’s haven’t been updated yet. Its a similar story when looking for flights to Los Angeles in February 2021.
Pulling apart the Tweet further still, Tim mentions that training has been formally suspended. By definition, suspended is:
Temporarily prevent from continuing or being in force or effectOxford Dictionary
Therefore, it could just mean that British Airways don’t plan on using their 747 fleet for a number of months, therefore keeping the crew in recency and up to current training standards would be a waste. By the time the airline does plan to use them again, they would have to put the flight crew through the same procedures again, rendering the first round meaningless.
Taking a step away from the Tweet that Tim made now.
Currently, oil prices are extremely low. Sure, the Boeing 747 isn’t the latest bit of kit. And the 4 engines it has are undesirable. But lets think about this in the automotive world:
What would be cheaper for the time being?
You own a 15 year old Ford that runs on diesel. It’s finance was paid off years ago, mostly reliable and you have a good idea of how to fix things when it goes wrong. Spare parts aren’t an issue as they are readily available. The highest ongoing cost is filling it up with fuel, which currently isn’t an issue due to it brain reasonably cheap. This is your Boeing 747.
On the flip side however:
Your neighbour has just turned up in a brand new Tesla. It can still seat 5 people. It can hold a weeks shopping in the boot. Much the same as your old Ford. This new Tesla has all the latest gadgets and tech. And being electric, the weekly/monthy fill up of £40+ is a thing of the past – simply plug it in. However, something goes wrong. With your old Ford, it’s an easy fix. With this new Tesla, you have no option but to take it back to the dealer. And if the problem isn’t covered under warranty, it will cost you.
In addition, you’re paying a huge amount off on the finance for a number of years. This is your Airbus A350.
See what I’m getting at here? Sure, on the outside, the Boeing 747 may be the last generation technology. And undoubtably has higher running costs compared to the A350’s and Boeing 787’s that are coming in to replace them. However, running costs are a bit of a moot point at the moment. Looking at the bigger picture, there doesn’t appear to be that much of a cost differential between the two types. At least from the point of view from someone sat behind a desk writing about it. Although I’m not going to pretend for a second that I know more than the fleet planners at British Airways. If I did, I’d no doubt be doing that job and being paid an awful lot more in the process.
My Gut Feeling
My own gut feeling on this is that it is likely that a number of the fleet will be heading off to the scrap yard. But maybe not all of them. A few already have made their way to Kemble for scrap. Just this morning, G-BYGC, the 747 painted in the BOAC scheme left Heathrow bound for Cardiff. Although this is almost definitely for storage. To the best of my knowledge, there are no scrapping facilities at Cardiff.
This backs up my theory that the fleet will be in hibernation for a number of months. As operations ramp back up again, having a number of large aircraft scattered across Heathrow will be a bit of an operational issue. Therefore, BA can stick them at their maintenance base in Cardiff. If they own a portion of the land at their facility, even better as it will reduce the cost of parking. Plus as soon as they are ready to come back into service, they simply have to tow them into the hangar and carry out the necessary checks. No need to position an engineering crew to Bournemouth or Teruel.