The Retirement Of BA’s 747 Fleet

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The retirement has led to a bout of nostalgia from staff and plane fanatics keen for souvenirs. 

Earlier this month, BA announced it was permanently grounding its fleet of 31 747s amid the coronavirus-led slump in travel demand.

Some of these iconic planes will end up at a salvage firm at Cotswold Airport.

Air Salvage International’s owner Mark Gregory says he is getting a stream of inquiries from people keen to grab a piece of aviation history.

This week, Boeing said it would stop making the 747 planes as airlines opt for newer and more fuel-efficient planes.

Gregory has already taken delivery of three BA 747-400s and another three will be delivered in the coming months. He expects the remainder to be sold to other airlines and operators.

The 747 is credited as making long-distance air travel more affordable and has a history stretching back five decades. As it slowly disappears, a market is developing for souvenirs, ranging from seats to side panels.

“I get a daily stream of emails from BA staff and 747 fanatics who want to buy a piece of a plane. A cut-out side section is popular which can be hung on the wall. These usually go for about £200 each,” said Gregory.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Air Salvage International has seen a ten-fold increase in inquiries from a number of airlines looking for storage facilities.

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“We have 11 747s parked up currently. Some are being dismantled while others are up for sale including the BA 747s,” added Gregory. Cotswold Airport has a capacity for more than 100 aircraft.

A division of his business looks after the dismantling and selling on of aircraft parts. Engines make up around 80% of the value of a retired plane.

While some engines can easily sell for $3m (£2.3m) each, the Rolls-Royce ones on the BA 747-400s are likely to sell for less.

Some of the retired aircraft have even made their way into the movies and scrap parts have been featured in many of the Star Wars films, including Rogue One.

The aviation industry is facing a significant challenge of how to deal with its aging aircraft, along with a sharp fall in passenger numbers.

It estimated last year that more than 20,000 commercial aircraft will be retired over the next 20 years, but that was before the virus pandemic devastated the airline industry.

The 747-400, which is the model BA is phasing out, first began flying in 1988.

Boeing sold almost 700 of the 747-400s, making them the best-selling version of the long-range airliner. Now that most are more than 20 years old, they are gradually being retired.

But the very first 747s date back to 1969, with Boeing celebrating their 50th-anniversary last year.

Felicity Gitonga

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