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Published on April 4th, 2020 | by Alan Dwyer

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End of the road for the Queen of the Skies

With the onset of the Coronavirus across the world, many airlines have had to curtail services and routes have been chopped at an alarming rate. Passengers have had to make urgent plans for repatriation to their home or face uncertainty of being put in a two week quarantine in foreign countries. Airlines have faced an unprecedented collapse in future bookings and existing bookings for flights that will now not take place must be refunded leaving airlines with massive cash flow problems. Airlines across the world have been putting staff on leave or being fur-longed for an indefinite period.

With the wide scale grounding of fleets by major airlines, a reevaluating of future needs will be undertaken causing airlines to reduce their fleet size. Although many airlines had already announced long term plans for their long haul fleets, some airlines have brought forward withdrawal dates with immediate effect. Airlines such as Australian flag carrier Qantas operated their last Boeing 747 flight at the weekend. Qantas had been one of the original Boeing 747 customers when the Queen of the Skies was launched back in the 1960’s and had operated most variants up to the Boeing 747-400, including the rare 747SP version.

Dutch airline KLM will have operated the iconic Boeing 747 for passenger flights for almost fifty years. In January 1971, the Dutch airline took delivery of its very first Jumbo Jet, Boeing 747-200 PH-BUA ‘Mississippi’. The Dutch airline has been a proud Boeing 747 operator ever since and operated the Boeing 747 on passenger, cargo services and had a number of Combi aircraft too. Flight KL686 from Mexico City to Amsterdam Schiphol on Saturday 28th March was operated with Boeing 747-406(M) PH-BFT named ‘City of Tokyo’, a nearly 23 year old aircraft. The aircraft came in to land at Amsterdam-Schiphol after a flypast over the airport at around 15:20 local time on the afternoon on 29th March bringing an end to the iconic aircraft operating passenger services for KLM.

KLM had planned to completely phase out the Boeing 747 by May 2021. Unfortunately, due to the worldwide Coronavirus outbreak and the resulting dramatic decline in demand for air travel, the Dutch airline was forced to bring forward its final passenger flight of its Boeing 747 fleet. Even though KLM still has three Boeing 747-ERF full freighter aircraft in the fleet, these aircraft are operated by their subsidiary Martinair and will remain in operation for the foreseeable future.

One of the last Boeing 747’s still operating for Virgin Atlantic is 19 year old G-VROS

Virgin Atlantic is another airline who had previously announced the end of their Boeing 747 operations. With the arrival of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 to the fleet in recent years, older aircraft were planned for retirement. Virgin had been a Boeing 747 operator since their first transatlantic service from Gatwick to Newark back in June 1984. Virgin operated a total of 29 Boeing 747’s over the years and the final service was planned for 2021 but although six remain in the fleet it is unlikely they will return to the skies once the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted. In recent days, some have been use for repatriation flights back to the UK for stranded people overseas. Virgin have also called an end to the operation of their Airbus A340-600 fleet. Their last three in service aircraft were due to end their flying careers by this summer as more Dreamliner’s and Airbus A350’s came online, but this too was brought forward and the three aircraft were flown to Bournemouth for storage.

Virgin Atlantic recently placed its last three Airbus A340-600’s into long term storage and have removed them from service.
The three British Airways Boeing 747-400’s were painted in Retro colours at Dublin Airport by IAC to celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2019.

British Airways with 28 and Lufthansa with 32 remain the only two operators of the Boeing 747 in Europe with any significant numbers and both plan to continue for a few years yet. Spanish charter airline Wamos Air have a fleet of five Boeing 747-400’s which are used for ACMI operations. Both British Airways and Lufthansa have placed large amounts of their fleets with British Airways positioning five Boeing 747’s to Bournemouth for temporary storage on Tuesday afternoon while a further five flew to Teruel in Spain for ‘return to flight’ storage on Friday afternoon. While the future of the Boeing 747 will still see British Airways and Lufthansa fly these in passenger service for quite a while yet, the end is clearly in sight for anyone who loved the sight of that four-engines Jumbo come into sight. With many former passenger aircraft having been converted for cargo use over the years and these will continue to supply the world with goods for a few years yet.

A Lufthansa Boeing 747-830 climbing away on departure. These are planned to remain in their long haul fleet for at least another decade and will probably be the last remaining passenger Boeing 747’s in the world wide fleet.

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