What Will Replace The British Airways 747?

Following the immediate withdrawal of the British Airways 747 fleet last week, there has been a bit of discussion online as to what will replace them.

Now obviously, we all know that the Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 787-10 have been brought in to fill the void. And over the coming years, the 777-X. But I’ve decided to speculate as to what specific aircraft will serve the routes previously occupied by the 747.

I haven’t included the 777-X as they are still a few years away from being delivered. Here I am focusing on the near future – around 12 to 18 months from now. Going forward, the British Airways long haul fleet will consist of:

  • Airbus A350-1000
  • Airbus A380
  • Boeing 777-200ER
  • Boeing 777-300ER
  • Boeing 787-8
  • Boeing 787-9
  • Boeing 787-10

So a decent enough selection to go around, catering for route demand and range. Obviously, the Airbus A380 features the most seats, and surprisingly the second longest range at 15,200km. It is only beaten by the newly delivered A350-1000 which can fly 16,200km between fuel stops.

At the other end of the scale, the Boeing 787-8 offers the least amount of seats. To the point where these aircraft don’t have a First class fitted. The same can be said of the newly delivered A350-1000. However both offer the range to reach pretty much anywhere on the network.

The only aircraft that is somewhat range limited is the 787-10. Not only because it features a range of just under 13,000km, but also it lacks any crew rest bunks. So the longest missions that aircraft is likely to serve is London – West Coast USA. However, in terms of passenger experience, this is the one to aim for. Being newly delivered in June 2020, it is the only member of the fleet to feature the new Club World Suites and the latest First Class product.

In terms of the ones to avoid when it comes to passenger experience, its the Boeing 777-200. The oldest example still in service was delivered to the airline in July 1997. These aircraft feature the 2010 First Class cabin and the previous generation, 8 abreast Club World cabin. However, a number of these aircraft are currently being refurbished to have the Club World Suite fitted.

Further back however, it’s the opposite. The older un-refurbished 777’s are the ones to aim for. They still feature the far more passenger friendly 3-3-3 layout in economy. Where most airlines have shoe horned in an extra seat on their 777’s over the past few years, BA have held out. However they are now moving to this layout on their refreshed aircraft. Where the front of the plane gains, those at the back lose out.

It’s the same on the 787 fleet. At the back, there is one seat too many, making for a very tight ride. I could also argue that the Airbus A350 is a little on the snug side compared to the older generation. However, it’s not quite as tight as the 787 or the 10 abreast 777.

The one aircraft I’m yet to mention is the Airbus A380. And I’m sure I don’t need to point out that there is plenty of room all around on that aircraft.


Accra

The North African destinations have always been surprisingly (to me at least) popular. They don’t strike me as either a tourist or business hot spot. Yet Accra has nearly always been flown by a 747. Going forward, I can forsee the 777 series filling the gap. This will add some degree of flexibility. If loads are light, then send the 777-200ER. Looking busy? Switch to the larger -300ER without too many operational headaches.

Austin

The future of Austin without the 747 had already been sealed prior to the retirement of the 747:

  • Airbus A350 October 2020
  • Boeing 777 November 2020 – March 2021
  • Airbus A350 April 2021 onwards

Boston

Boston flights rotated seasonally between the 747 and the Airbus A380. Going forward, assuming demand will be low, it’s feasible that the former 747 flight will be dropped entirely in the winter. Whether the Airbus A380 returns to the city in the summer will be the most interesting thing to see. It could well be a case of a single daily 777 in the winter and a single daily A380 in summer. Tough to call this one.

Cape Town

Prior to COVID, Cape Town was a prime target for an A380 service. However, the airport didn’t have the infrastructure in place. Hence the 747 on what was probably its longest sector for the airline. Depending on the demand for First Class, Cape Town could well see either the 777-300ER or the Airbus A350. However, if the demand returns sufficiently and the promised airport upgrades are completed then an Airbus A380 could serve the route in a few years time.

As the A380 isn’t able to operate into the airport, its safe to assume the British Airways 747 was the largest regular visitor.

British Airways Boeing 777-300ER
British Airways Boeing 777-300ER

Chicago

Chicago is another destination where we get a sneak peak as to what could happen in the future. Currently, the Airbus A350 is scheduled to operate for the rest of the summer. Pending deliveries of more of the type, this could well continue into the winter. Previously, two flights were scheduled daily into Chicago – one being a 777 and the other operated by the 747. Should demand dictate, the 777 will likely stay put and the 747 will be replaced by the A350.

Dallas Fort Worth

The British Airways 747 has already been all but replaced by the newly delivered Boeing 787-10 on the London – Dallas route. This was scheduled all along.

Denver

Denver has already been served by the Boeing 777 in the past by British Airways, so there’s no reason why it wont switch back to this arrangement going forward. Being a somewhat secondary US destination (apologies to the folk in Denver – but you’re hardly NY or LA…) there probably won’t be too much business need for the airline to put their latest and greatest product on this route.

Having said that, the 777’s are being refurbished as we speak.

Dubai

Dubai has always struck me as an odd one. Considering British Airways are up against the might of Emirates on the route, you’d think they would offer a more consistent experience on the route. Previously, the 787-9 complete with brand new First cabin operated along side the British Airways 747 and 777 on the route. Which offered the previous generation First product. More recently, the Airbus A350 has been deployed to Dubai. Again, with the brand new Club World product… along side the two older members of the fleet.

I would have thought that Dubai would be a prime location for the 787-10 to operate along side the Airbus A350. However from looking at the schedules into next year, they show a pair of 777’s along side the A350. Maybe those 777’s will have the new Club World suite to bring some consistency to the route.

British Airways Airbus A350
British Airways Airbus A350

Johannesburg

During the winter, Johannesburg was so popular that it was served by a pair of Airbus A380’s. In the summer, one of the flights was switched to the 747. Going forward, I suspect that demand would be sufficiently low enough for a single A380 year round.

British Airways Airbus A380
British Airways Airbus A380

Lagos

Much like Accra above, I suspect that Lagos will see the Boeing 777 fleet. Again, the -200ER for when the flight isn’t too busy and the -300ER for when things are a little busier.

Las Vegas

I personally can’t see the Las Vegas flight being operated by anything other than the 777-200ER. Unless British Airways throw us a curve ball and operate the Airbus A380 year round as opposed to just a week in January 2021. Although who knows if that will even happen now?

Los Angeles

Previously, Los Angeles has seen a British Airways 747, A380, 787, a pair of A380’s, a pair of 747’s, a 777-300ER. So It could be anything really. Although I suspect the most likely contenders will be the Airbus A380, the 787-9 with the 747 flight dropped.

British Airways Boeing 787-9
British Airways Boeing 787-9

Miami

Could the current two BA flights to Miami be consolidated on to a single A380? Being an American Airlines hub, BA could operate a daily A380 and leave a couple of flights to American. They have sent the A380 to Miami on a seasonal basis previously.

Failing that, there could be a couple of American 777-300ER flights in addition to a pair of British Airways 787-9 flights if both airlines want to retain a decent frequency between the cities.

New York JFK

New York saw the British Airways 747 more than anywhere. With the type being retired, it will mean a huge capacity drop. Although that won’t be an issue for the time being, I suspect it will be the one US destination that bounces back the fastest. With the terminals that British Airways use unable to accommodate the Airbus A380, this leaves the Boeing 777-300ER as the most suitable candidate capacity wise.

British Airways 747 at New York JFK
British Airways 747 at New York JFK

Philadelphia 

Back when I flew to Philadelphia with British Airways in 2014, the flight was operated by a 787-8. There was a second flight earlier in the day operated by the 777-200. Despite it being peak summer season, the 787 wasn’t anywhere near full. Therefore I was a little surprised to see that the British Airways 747 on the route a few years later.

Being somewhat nearby to New York, and following the US Airways merger, an American Airlines hub, I can see British Airways pulling Philadelphia. The joint venture with American means they will get a share of the profits regardless.

If it does stick around, I suspect it will revert back to the 787-8.

British Airways Boeing 787-8
British Airways Boeing 787-8

San Diego

Much like Philadelphia above, the close proximity to Los Angeles means I have my doubts as to whether San Diego will remain on the schedule. However, the airline has served the Southern California city for a long, long time. To the point when the DC10 used to fly there via Phoenix.

Over the past few years the route has gone backwards and forwards between the 747 and the 777-300ER. If it does stick around, then it could possibly stick with the 777-300ER.

San Francisco

Another destination that has seen a bit of a mix of types over the previous few years. If British Airways sticks to two daily flights, then the A380/777-200ER combo of a few years back will likely be used. If they cut back to a single daily flight, then the two flights could be consolidated on to a single A380. Or could that be 3 daily flights….

British Airways Airbus A380 at San Francisco
British Airways Airbus A380 at San Francisco

San Jose

…Which leads me on to San Jose. The British Airways 747 was supposed to be used to the airport this summer following upgrade works at the airport. Obviously the route has done well since launching in mid-2016. Since then, it has been operated by the Boeing 787-9.

But:

Much like Philadelphia and San Diego above, it’s close proximity to San Francisco could go against the routes future. If British Airways really starts cutting back, they could very well take the San Jose flight and merge it into one of the San Francisco flights. Especially if the A380 remains flying to San Francisco.

Seattle

No great surprises here. The Boeing 787-10 was already scheduled on the Seattle route from London long before the pandemic. No reason to see this changing.

Vancouver

Vancouver has previously been served with either the Boeing 747 or the Airbus A380. So loads on the route are obviously pretty good. Depending on how the demand is for first class, it could either be serviced by a Boeing 777-300ER or an Airbus A350.

Washington DC

Currently, the Airbus A350 serves Washington on one daily flight. There’s no reason to suspect that this wont continue.

It’s the second flight where the questions appear though. Previously, it was either the 747 or the A380. British Airways also fly to nearby Baltimore. In fact, when searching for flights to Washington, it lists Baltimore as one for the airports for the city.

Should BA drop Baltimore, extra capacity would be needed. Therefore the second daily flight could mean the A380 is sufficient. However, if Baltimore sticks around then the second flight could well be canned. Unless there is a demand for first class to the area. Neither the 787-8 nor the A350 offer this. In which case, the 777-200ER could step in.


Any speculation expressed above is my own, and there are no guarantees that any particular aircraft will operate any route. I am not connected to British Airways in any way.

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