Last two British Airways Boeing 747s depart London Heathrow for the final time

Many chapters in the book of aviation are coming to an end as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, but none will perhaps be more read than the chapter dedicated to farewelling the 'Queen of the Skies': the Boeing 747.

Airlines around the world have been retiring dozens of aircraft and sometimes entire fleets as the outlook for international travel remains uncertain.

On Thursday it British Airways said goodbye to the last of its Boeing 747s as they departed Heathrow for the final time. 

Their official departure time is listed as 7:47am (local time).

Almost everything was playing ball for a perfect farewell - the roads around Heathrow were lined with hundreds of fans waving Union Jack flags, some with tears in their eyes.

"The kiss"
"The kiss" Photo credit: British Airways

Amazing facts about the British Airways 747s:

  • British Airways 747 registration G-CIVB entered service: February 15, 1994
  • It operated 13,398 flights
  • Has flown for 118,445 hours
  • Has flown nearly 95 million kilometres 
  • British Airways 747 registration G-CIVY entered service: September 29, 1998
  • It operated 11,034 flights
  • Has flown for 90,161 hours
  • Has flown more than 72 million kilometres
  • BOAC, British Airways predecessor flew its first 747 flight in 1971
  • The wings of a 747-400 span 213ft and are big enough to accommodate 50 parked cars.

News crews were all set up ready to broadcast the departure to millions of viewers both on the BBC and via Facebook and Youtube planespotter groups.

The plan was originally that the two aircraft would take off simultaneously on parallel runways, which would have been immortalised as an iconic image.

Last two British Airways Boeing 747s depart London Heathrow for the final time
Photo credit: British Airways

However, the one thing that wasn't playing ball was the weather. Heavy rain and low clouds stuck to the airport as the countdown clock approached take-off time.

The decision was made that a parallel take off was not going to be possible due to both the weather conditions and the inbound aircraft being put into holding patterns to delay their arrival so the dual take off could take place, all in less than ideal flying conditions.

Instead it was decided that the two aircraft would take off with just seconds between them. 

Just as the Boeing 747 with registration G-CIVB lifted off from the end of the runway - nearly 27 years after its first departure - G-CIVY followed right behind.

Once in the air, G-CIVY circled back over the southerly runway to farewell to its former home, but the final goodbye wasn't as spectacular as it could have been. The low cloud meant the aircraft popped in and out of the clouds as it flew past before heading to St Athan, where it will be retired.

Alex Cruz, British Airways' chairman and CEO, described the day as an emotional milestone for the airline as it farewelled such a huge part of its history.

The aircraft performs a low fly-by of Heathrow Airport despite the low cloud.
The aircraft performs a low fly-by of Heathrow Airport despite the low cloud. Photo credit: British Airways

"The 747s have played a huge role in our 100-year history, forming the backbone of our fleet for over 50 years. I know I speak for our customers and the many thousands of colleagues who have spent much of their careers alongside them when I say we will miss seeing them grace our skies," Cruz said.