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‘Queen of the Skies’: British Airways retires final two jets in 747 fleet

Written by on 8 October 2020

Heathrow Airport will witness aviation history later as British Airways retires its final two iconic 747 aircraft.

The much-loved jumbo jets have seen their retirement brought forward by several years because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the airline.

Two flights will take off at the same time, one destined for an airfield in Kemble, near Cirencester, and the other for an airfield near Cardiff.

The jumbo jet has been a mainstay for the airline since the early 1970s

Both jets will eventually be broken down for spares.

“It’s going to be a very emotional day,” said BA captain Al Bridger who has flown the 747 for three decades.

“You deliver an aircraft to its destination, you shut it down and it’s almost like switching off its life support for the last time.

“In the past I have actually apologised to aircraft when I’ve done it. It’s going to be a day of mixed emotions.”

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The Boeing-made jets are often described as the “Queen of the Skies” and are renowned for their classic looks and stylish engineering.

“It’s going to be missed,” said BA engineer John Moore, who has worked on them for 35 years and witnessed the first ever 747 flight in the US in the early 1970s with his designer father.

“I will be very sad because I’ve four grandchildren and when a jumbo flies over the house they always look up and say ‘that’s one of granddad’s planes’.

“It’s like losing a member of the family.”

The 747 model has been a mainstay for the airline since the early 1970s but will be replaced by newer aircraft that offer 25% better fuel efficiency.

LONDON - NOVEMBER 25: The England Rugby team return to Heathrow Airport in there renamed British Airways 747 after there victory in The Rugby World Cup held in Australia on November 25, 2003 at  Heathrow, England.  (Photo by Julian Herbert/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Rugby Team
The ‘Queen of the Skies’ has been involved in many iconic moments – including bringing home England’s Rugby World Cup winning side in 2003

“You could be anywhere in the world, from Cape Town to Hong Kong to Australia, and when you’d turn up at the airport and see this plane you’d know you were heading home on this gorgeous aircraft,” said Jim Davies from the British Airways Museum.

“It retains this strange, wonderful charisma that people just love to see. She really is the ‘Queen of the Skies’.”

British Airways made the decision in July to retire its fleet of 747s as the impact of the virus virtually brought the global aviation industry to its knees.