Featured image: Luca Flores/Airways

4/14/1971: BOAC Places First Boeing 747 into Service

DALLAS — A pivotal moment in British aviation occurred today in 1971 when British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) introduced the Boeing 747 into its commercial service.

The inaugural flight departed London Heathrow Airport (LHR) at 12:03 GMT, carrying 283 passengers and heading for New York (JFK). The flight was expertly piloted by Captain D. Redrup aboard the newly delivered G-ANWF, the 23rd 747 off the production line.

A BOAC Boeing 747-100 landing at LHR in September 1972. Photo: Richard Vandervord, CC BY-SA 4.0

BOAC Orders the Jumbo Jet

BOAC placed its first order for six 747s on September 2, 1966, at a total price of approximately US$160 million. This followed a lengthy investigation by the UK government into ordering the American jumbo. It concluded that as "no British aircraft will be available that could fulfill the role," BOAC would need the jumbo jet "to be able to match its main competitors." 

On 22 April 1970 BOAC received its first 747.However, the airline's pilots were in an ongoing dispute over pay and productivity; hence the delayed entry to service. The pilots wanted a "wide-bodied pay rise" to match flying the wide-bodied jets. Talks between the airline and the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA) continued for months.

British Airways G-BYGC Boeing 747-436 [BOAC 1964-1974] retro Livery). Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

Parked Planes

The first three jumbos (G-ANWA, G-ANWB, and G-ANWC) stood idle on the ground. The delay was estimated to cost BOAC upwards of £25,000 per day. Reliability problems, which plagued some engines on the new planes, meant that BOAC could recoup some of its lost revenue by leasing out its unused engines to other carriers. 

BOAC's successor, British Airways (BA), would become the world's biggest operator of the 747. At its peak, the airline had 57 747-400s in its fleet. G-AWNF served with BA until January 2001, when it was sold to Nigerian charter airline Kabo Air (N9).

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