British Airways owner IAG is in deep talks with both Airbus and Boeing over the replacement of the remaining 747-400 fleet, which ideally need to leave service at the latest by 2023-25.
36 744’s are currently operated by BA, which still makes them the worlds largest operator of the type by a wide margin. 18 of them are scheduled for replacement by the A350-1000, the first of which is due around mid 2019.
The question is what will replace the remaining 18? BA has already walked away from more A380’s as a new order, stating that Airbus simply wanted too much money, even though it was their preferred aircraft. The A380 is ideally suited to airports like Heathrow where slot constraints are of primary concern and volume of passengers per flown aircraft really matters.
There are only two really viable 744 competitors – the A35K and the new Boeing 777-9.
Willy Walsh, CEO of IAG has long lamented never buying more of the 777-300ER. BA operates just 12, all of which are leased. 3 more are to be delivered – 2 in 2019 and 1 in 2020. However, yet another type of aircraft, flies in the face of the synergies Walsh has espoused ad nauseam over the years. It would also mean another engine type, and another aircraft to train crews for, never mind all the associated maintenance requirements.
Even more long term, BA must look at the ageing 772 fleet. Plans to keep them in service up to age 30 give them some leeway, but the numbers suggest it’s either got to be more 787 family, as little else fits a similar passenger numbers profile, or the A359 which the airline has shown no interest in. 12 787-10’s are due to be delivered between 2019 and 2021, all of the 18 787-9’s are now in service and just 2 more of the 787-8’s (4 were swapped down from -9’s) are to be delivered this year, completing the 12 aircraft order.
I think in the end the 744’s will be replaced by A35K’s. 18 is not an ideal number of one type of aircraft and an airline the size of BA would be better suited with a single type in a similar role, out of flexibility, cost benefit and availability. A35K will be available far sooner, and is already a tried and tested product – something BA has a long policy of adhering to. It’s never a launch customer. 36 A35K’s would make for better, more efficient longer term solution.