Once a mainstay in the Air India fleet, the Boeing 747 is slowly on its way out at Air India. Air India first began operating the 747 in 1971, and over the past 50 years, it has operated 27 of these aircraft in total. Over these years, Air India operated its fleet of 14 Boeing 747-200s, besides using the 747-300s (including the combi planes). The 747-400s were the last variant of the Air India 747 brought into fleet.
Covid-19 has hastened the demise of the Queen of the Skies, as the 747 is fondly called, and Boeing has also decided to stop production of this marvellous aircraft after the current orders are completed. In 2020, I had the good fortune of visiting the line where the last of the Boeing 747s was being assembled.
Over the past years, many airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic, Qantas, British Airways and KLM, decided to retire their 747 fleets. The four-engines’ fuel consumption already cost a lot to keep them up, and the age was showing, with newer twin-engine jets having been introduced in the market twice over since the launch (the 777s from Boeing, and then the 787s, which were even more fuel-efficient).
Among all this, the Air India 747-400s were still a part of the Air India fleet. They also served the Executive Mission for the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister of India when on their international trips. However, with the induction of two brand new VVIP mission Boeing 777s, this requirement was also closed for the Boeing 747s of Air India.
Nonetheless, there is only one active 747 for Air India now, being VT-EVA which was in service. The rest are all in Mumbai idling, which led me to this tweet last month.
Has Air India quietly retired the 747s? I mean it is logical to do so for 26 year old aircraft now that the Air India one fleet is changing over, but no announcement I caught. This AI 744 flew 11 months ago last. pic.twitter.com/Q3TOVwVzBA
— Ajay Awtaney (@LiveFromALounge) February 7, 2021
Now, inside sources at Air India have confirmed the plans to retire the Queen of the Skies in the next week or so. An official announcement by Air India is expected next week. If there will be a final passenger flight or not, is not yet disclosed by Air India.
All the pilots who used to be operating the Boeing 747s at Air India are being converted to the Boeing 777 fleet, reportedly. Only 5 747 pilots in the Air India fleet are current.
While I am not a big fan of Air India’s upkeep of many widebody aircraft, the 747 has always played a pivotal role, be it in the extraction operations from the Middle-East at the time of the Iraq/Kuwait war, or as recently as bringing Indians back from Wuhan after the pandemic broke out. I’ve been a big fan of the 747, and I was hoping to make one last ride on the aircraft before it was flown away. I last flew the Air India 747s in 2005 and 2006, and it has been terribly long since this flight type.
Update: On March 9, 2021, Air India denied the story via social media.
#FlyAI : It has been reported in a section of media that Air India is set to retire its Boeing 747 aircraft from its fleet & will be operating its last flight tomorrow.
The news is false and B747 will continue to remain an integral part of our fleet.
— Air India (@airindiain) March 9, 2021
Are you going to miss the Air India 747 once it is gone?
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