The 747 is Here to Stay — For Now
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While most airlines are bidding farewell to their 747-400s and upgrading to new aircraft for their fleets, British Airways has taken a bold step and decided to give its Queen of the Skies a full makeover instead.
The makeover will incorporate the look of the new fleet, with touch-screen entertainment systems and new curtains, seats and carpets. Sixteen additional Business Class seats are being retrofitted as well; there will now be 86 total on each jumbo jet, which is only 11 fewer seats than on BA’s flagship A380.
According to George Ferguson, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, BA is counting on another “a good 10 years of life at least” from roughly 21 of its 747s. (The rest are being retired, as they were replaced with Airbus A380s, along with 787-9s later this year.)
Delta and United are retiring their 747 fleets, meanwhile, with Delta planning to cease 747 operations by 2017 and United phasing out its own jumbos beginning the same year. Meanwhile, other carriers such as Air New Zealand and Malaysia Airlines have already scrapped them entirely. So is there something BA knows that others don’t? What’s going on?
As always, it comes down to money. The 747s are almost paid for, fuel prices are low, and retrofitting has a much more attractive ticket price than a brand-spanking-new plane. In addition, the retrofit allows BA to get the most out of its operating slots at London Heathrow (LHR), its main hub, with the 747s being assigned to high-volume destinations like Chicago, Boston and New York.