BA says farewell to the jumbo as the plane with the hump looks set to be heading for the dump

The ageing and fuel-thirsty Boeing 747 is no longer an economic option, says travel correspondent Simon Calder

It has transported presidents, monarchs and refugees – and provided a piggy-back for the Space Shuttle.

But now the plane with a hump could be heading for the dump.

British Airways, the world’s leading operator of the Boeing 747, this week announced plans to start replacing its jumbo jets with smaller but much more efficient 787 jets.

The 787 “Dreamliner” is currently grounded because of safety concerns, but Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA’s holding company, IAG, said he was confident of its long-term prospects: “The aircraft offers a step change in fuel-burn efficiency versus our existing aircraft”. His counterpart at Cathay Pacific, John Slosar, has already made plans to retire the jumbo by next year, saying: “They are simply not economical to operate in these times of soaring fuel prices”.

The Boeing 747 was the first wide-bodied passenger aircraft. When it entered service in January 1970, it cut the cost of flying dramatically and opened up the world to middle-class travellers. Until the “jumbo age” began, long-haul air travel was the preserve of the wealthy – it would take months of work at the average wage to earn enough to fly the Atlantic. But once the 747 started flying, there were more than twice as many seats to fill on each flight. The only way to fill them was by cutting prices.

BOAC, the predecessor to British Airways, recruited Tony Blackburn to advertise unprecedented low fares of £103 (now around £1,250) from London Heathrow to New York JFK. Today, the same journey aboard a British Airways 747 costs as little as £428, of which £100 is UK and US government taxes.

Flying passengers on an old and thirsty aircraft is an expensive business, which explains BA’s plans to retire its fleet of 57 jumbo jets. Some are being replaced by the Boeing 777-300, which can almost match the 747’s capacity. But the airline has indicated that the 787 aircraft ordered this week will replace the jumbo on a one-for-one basis – significantly shrinking passenger capacity.

The aviation consultant, Peter Woodrow, described the decision as “a surprising choice” given that BA operates from the most constrained airport in the world. In his Air ‘N There blog he wrote: “The order is not a cause for celebration by those who want to fly BA in the future. The opponents of new Heathrow runways might also raise gleeful eyebrows and claim that the capacity of the two existing ones is not being exploited to the full.”

Heathrow was the destination of the maiden flight of the 747 in 1970, by Pan Am from New York JFK. Since then the jumbo jet has enjoyed a remarkable career – and remains the backbone of the Virgin Atlantic and British Airways fleets.

After Concorde was grounded a decade ago, the 747 became the fastest jet in passenger service, with a top speed of 614mph. BA’s evening jumbo from Heathrow to Hong Kong beats Virgin’s Airbus by 35 minutes. L

Passengers in a hurry may be glad to know that aircraft with the familiar “hump” are still being made – in the shape of the 747-8, for which Lufthansa is the launch customer. It is 18 feet longer than earlier versions, with much-improved fuel efficiency.

Every aircraft in the British Airways 747 fleet was delivered in the last century, and the oldest 747 in BA service was built in 1989. The second-hand value of old jumbos is sinking. The aircraft valuer Ascend Worldwide reported a slump in prices at the start of this year, and described values as “beginning to hurt”. There is a market in the developing world for planes with a few million miles on the clock, but the high cost of maintenance as well as fuel could deter potential buyers. Many of the aircraft are likely to be scrapped.

The prototype for a more radical option is to be found in a corner of Stockholm’s Arlanda airport where a former Pan Am jumbo has been converted into a hotel.

News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
News
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
peopleIggy Azalea was left red faced but apparently unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition