Understanding why BA retired its 744’s
British Airways 744 fleet supported just short of 5,500,000 seats in 2019, around 8.66% of its total seat offering on all types of aircraft world wide. The seats were also substantially more profitable because there was no capital cost to the aircraft, but the scales were quickly tipping. As age increases, so do maintenance costs and the 744’s were eating into the maintenance budget more and more each year.
Fuel costs have fluctuated, but BA stopped hedging and is currently in receipt of low fuel charges, although they have and will start to rise again, reducing overall profitability.
The airline was the largest 747-400-operator in the world during 2019 by capacity, and the second largest 747 family operator. Only Lufthansa offered more seats across its fleet of 747-400s and 747-8i’s. However, Lufthansa decommissioned five 747-400s since the COVID-19 outbreak began, with more likely to follow.
The chart above shows the top ten 747 operators, with Lufthansa in the lead only because of its 748i’s.
You can now remove BA, Thai, Virgin, China Airlines, Qantas and KLM from that list. Asiana is likely to retire its 744’s and Korean will likely only keep its nearly new 748i’s.
BA operated 27 744 routes in 2019, the top ten of which are shown below. Frequencies is the number of times a 744 flew that route in 2019.
The removal of 5.5 million seats from BA’s services seems huge, but in fact that 8.6% of its total market is pretty minimal – the level of cuts needed to bring that down to around the sustainable 50% mark gives you an idea of how many aircraft will have to go, and how drastic the drop in passenger numbers for just this one airline has actually been.