Today was supposed to mark the start of the Farnborough Airshow and organizers have moved the event online due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The biennial trade show comes at an incredibly difficult time for the global aviation industry with British Airways announcing on Friday that it is immediately retiring its fleet of 31 Boeing 747s. BA was the largest passenger airline operating the jumbo jet and it originally intended to phase it out in 2024.
The retirement date has now been brought forward due to the unprecedented travel slump caused by the coronavirus. Even before the current crisis, the 4-engine 747 was struggling to maintain competitive against the new generation twin-engine Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner which have proven far more economical to operate. Several airlines have already ditched their 747s including Air France, Delta and United.
Just over 400 747s were estimated to have been in service worldwide in June of this year and BA's decision to axe its fleet leaves Lufthansa as the largest passenger airline operating the type with 28 in service. Demand for the 747 is still high among cargo airliners and according to website planespotters.net, Atlas Air has the largest 747 fleet with 38 on its books (both in service and in storage). Two more aerial freight specialists - Cargolux and UPS Airlines - come second and third with 30 and 29 747s in service, respectively. The aircraft is still going strong with passenger airlines in Asia, however, with both Cathay Pacific and Korean Air operating 20.