July 17 (UPI) -- British Airways announced Friday it will immediately retire its entire fleet of Boeing 747 airliners due to ongoing challenges in the travel industry caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The British carrier said the retirement affects all 31 of its jumbo jetliners, effective immediately.
British Airways had previously planned to retire the fleet in 2024. It began using the double-deck, quad-engine plane in 1989.
"It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect," the carrier 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."
British Airways previously said it will cut as many 12,000 jobs after reaching a deal with its pilots union. Earlier this year, the carrier suspended 36,000 employees, about 80 percent of its workforce.
At one time, British Airways' 747 fleet had nearly 60 airliners. The model, one of the most popular in aviation history, was introduced in the industry in 1970.
Airlines worldwide have been gradually phasing out the 747 for years in favor of more fuel efficient models, like the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner. United Airlines and Delta retired their 747s in 2017, and Delta also said in May it will retire its 777s by the end of 2020.
"An aviation icon and the aircraft most pilots grew up wanting to fly," pilot Dave Wallsworth tweeted. "A favorite with pilots and cabin crew and, along with Concorde, the most recognizable aircraft in the world."
The Concorde was retired in 2003 after a similar downturn in the aviation industry brought on by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.