British Airways Negus 747 Exterior and Interior, Courtesy of Cotswold AirportVisualize your perfect venue - be it for a corporate event, a private party, or even a wedding - and there are certain essential elements you'll need. A space large enough to entertain your capacity crowd in comfort is only the beginning. What of the reception area, dancefloor, DJ, sound system, lighting setup, and the all-important bar? As any self-respecting party planner understands, synchronizing such things can be difficult. However, how about a venue that delivers all of the above - and delights your aviation-obsessed acquaintances into the bargain?
Such a place is possible, and Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire, England, has just the venue every #avgeek dreams of: the Negus Boeing 747 G-CIVB, an ex-British Airways jumbo jet who continues to entertain her passengers long after her final flight. Her transformation is truly unique, and tonight - ticket in hand - I'm going on board for her official opening night. "Have a great flight!" beams the hostess at the door, as an animated conversation and the chink of champagne glasses fill the cabin beyond. The invitation suggested fancy dress, and the enthusiasm for this event is evident in the array of outfits here: I've never seen so many flight-suited Top Gun fans, "hot shots", airline captains or stewardesses in one place; although the best-dressed couple is surely the pair arriving as "chicken" and "beef". There must be a good few hundred people here, excited to experience the opening night, and the venue does not disappoint.
Inside the lower deck, the economy class has been stripped out and replaced with something far more enjoyable - an open-plan party place, punctuated by tables and bar stools, at the far end of which a bar is serving themed beverages from an "in-flight menu". (Do I want to fly to "Barbados" or "Marrakesh", I wonder, impressed at the impeccable attention to detail every element of this evening has received.) Beyond the bar, an equally impressive sound system fills the stripped-out ceiling.
G-CIVB ‘Negus' was acquired by Suzannah Harvey, Chief Executive of the airport, back in 2020. Since starting service in 1994, G-CIVB flew nearly 60 million miles on 13,398 flights. But the global pandemic has not been kind to pilots or airplanes worldwide, and British Airways' plans to phase out their fleet of Negus 747s in 2024 was ultimately accelerated by Covid-19's adverse effects on the industry. However, while many airframes fell foul of the scrap merchant, this example was saved by Suzannah's enterprising thinking: after six weeks of negotiations, BA agreed to preserve this former ‘Queen of the Skies' as a static exhibit. And the cost for nearly 397 tonnes of airplane? Just one British pound. What a bargain.
The custom-built concrete apron pad the airplane sits on was just the start of the work, however. Admittedly, certain caveats were imposed on the acquisition: the promise to keep the plane in good condition for as long as is reasonably possible, to retain most of the original structure, and to keep the iconic Negus livery. (This jumbo is one of four rebranded in 2019 to commemorate the airline's centenary.)
However, that left plenty of scope for a spectacular transformation of the wide-body airliner. The business and first-class cabins retain their original layouts, as does the cockpit - and wow, does it feel high up to look out of the main window! Downstairs is a different matter: over £400,000 ($541,000) of investment has seen the economy seating section substituted for the perfect party space complete with custom lighting rigs, sound systems, and a bar. It's stylishly done and is already attracting attention from corporate and private clients eager to hire a truly unique venue.
If you'd like to plan a party, prices start at £1000 ($1350) an hour - although a large percentage of the fee will go to support the airport's scholarship programme. The aircraft even has a marriage license (although I do wonder which of the two aisles one would walk down!). From March 2022, she will be opening for twice-weekly tours, allowing more people the opportunity to see inside and experience her interior for themselves; including as a cinema.
Possibly the only thing better than a party is one that helps preserve a piece of aviation heritage - and the Negus 747 certainly ticks both boxes.
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