(Recasts headline and lead with takeoff)
By Kate Holton and Toby Melville
LONDON, Oct 8 (Reuters) - British Airways' last jumbo jets
bade farewell to London on Thursday but cloud and driving rain
prevented a rare synchronised dual take off for the "Queen of
the Skies" which brought long-haul flights to the masses.
Once the world's largest operator of the 747, BA has now
retired its entire jumbo jet fleet after COVID-19 curtailed most
air travel, accelerating the move to more fuel-efficient planes.
Chief Executive Alex Cruz said it was "a difficult day for
everybody at British Airways as the aircraft leaves our home at
Heathrow for the very last time".
The airline had planned a rarely seen synchronised dual take
off on parallel Heathrow runways but the weather prevented that.
The final flights were witnessed by BA staff and engineers who
lined up to see them off.
For over 50 years, the 747 has been the world's most easily
recognised jetliner with its humped fuselage, four engines and
16 main wheels.
It took its maiden flight in 1969 and soon secured its place
in history as the jet which allowed more affordable air travel
due its size and range.
Passengers have included John Paul II, who arrived for the
first visit to Ireland by a pope on an Aer Lingus 747 in 1979.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile on an
Air France jumbo during the Islamic Revolution that year.
BA's predecessor BOAC introduced the 747 on the London-New
York route in 1971, and at its peak BA had 57 747-400s.
Former pilots have told how the jet took some getting used
to, from a cockpit positioned almost 30 feet above the ground
and more when angling the nose higher just before touching the
"It was like landing a block of flats from the 2nd floor,"
Hugh Dibley, a former BOAC captain, told Reuters.
The owner of British Airways, IAG, is battling to
survive after the pandemic wiped out much of the global flying
(Editing by Catherine Evans, Guy Faulconbridge and Giles