British Airways is to retire its fleet of Boeing 747s with immediate effect.

The airline has used the aircraft since July 1989 and is the world’s biggest operator of the 747-400 model.

It had been planning to retire the fleet of 31 jumbos in 2024 but its end has been hastened by coronavirus.

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect,” the company said.

“It is unlikely our magnificent ‘queen of the skies’ will ever operate commercial services for British Airways again due to the downturn in travel caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“While the aircraft will always have a special place in our heart, as we head into the future, we will be operating more flights on modern, fuel-efficient aircraft such as our new A350s and 787s, to help us achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

British Airways operated the plane, powered by four Rolls Royce engines, to destinations in China, the US, Canada and Africa.

UK airlines have struggled to cope with the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus crisis, with easyJet, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic all announcing job cuts and reduced operations.

Meanwhile, demand for air travel will take longer to return to pre-pandemic levels than initially expected, according to the latest industry forecast.

Trade body ACI Europe, which represented European airports, said it did not expect passenger numbers to recover until 2024, one year later than it predicted in May.