What Happened To Air India’s Boeing 747s?

Once a mainstay in the Air India fleet, the Boeing 747 has slowly been phased out by the carrier. Air India first began operating the 747 in 1971, nearly 50 years ago and has since flown 27 aircraft in total. So what happened to Air India’s 747 fleet?

Air India 747 Getty
Air India currently operates four 747-400s, which are also used on VIP missions. Photo: Getty Images

Long history

Air India was one of the early operators of the 747, with Chairman J.R.D Tata seeing the aircraft as the future of aviation. The first 747-200 entered Air India’s fleet in March 1971, registered VT-EBD, according to Planespotters.net. The aircraft quickly began operating important, non-stop routes to cities such as London, Tokyo, and more.

Air India took delivery of 14 Boeing 747-200s in total, making it the most popular variant in its jumbojet fleet. The airline also held three 747-300s, including the lease of two of the unique -300M or combi planes (which have cargo and passengers on the main deck).

Air India 747-200
Air India took delivery of its first 747-200 in 1971, eventually flying 14 of the type. Photo: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons

The final variant ordered by Air India was the 747-400 and the airline took delivery of the last plane in the early 2000s. Currently, Air India has four 747-400s in its fleet which are between 24 and 27 years old, the oldest in the airline’s fleet.

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Where did Air India’s 747s go?

Most of the carrier’s 747-200s (and -300s) found themselves being scrapped or returned to lessors, with a handful being leased to carriers in the US (including UPS). However, the airline’s 747-400 have found some interesting roles. Three 747-400s that were leased from Korean Air were later returned to the carrier and continued operating until 2013.

Korean Air 747-400
Three 747-400s leased from Korean Air by Air India later returned to Korean fleet after serving for a few years. Photo: Kentaro lemoto via Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, most of Air India’s 747s have found their way to the scrapyard and only a handful continue flying with other airlines. However, through its long history, the Air India 747 has played some notable roles.

Important role

Similar to other airlines, the 747 allowed Air India to become a true international carrier, opening up direct flights to major hubs globally. The aircraft also built Air India’s reputation as the “Maharaja”, or king, for its impeccable customer service and luxurious cabins. The 747’s operations have since bene replaced by more effecient aircraft like the Boeing 777 and 787s.

Modi Air India One 747
The 747 made Air India into a major international carrier, starting new routes and carrying VIP passengers for years. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Wikimedia Commons

However, the history of the 747 fleet in Air India is not over just yet. The carrier’s four remaining 747s can be found occassionally on high-traffic domestic routes. Until last month, the Air India 747 also served as “Air India One“.

Air India One is the call sign for any aircraft with the President or Prime Minister on board, a mission that was flown by the fleet of 747-400s for decades. While the 747 may be on its way out, the plane will play an outsize role in aviation history around the world.

Have you ever flown the Air India 747? Did you enjoy the experience? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!