American Airlines today operates the largest fleet of any airline. This is a mixed Boeing and Airbus narrowbody fleet and an all Boeing widebody fleet. Since the pandemic hit, it has been noticeably simplified. Looking back over its history, though, it has a much more mixed fleet. This includes Boeing and Airbus as well as several others – McDonnel Douglas, British Aerospace, Fokker, and Embraer.
Long history and aircraft use
American Airlines is one of the oldest continuously operating airlines in the world. Several airlines came together in the 1930s to operate under a single brand – with the oldest of these (American Airways) tracing its origins back to 1927.
Its first aircraft was an American Airways Fairchild FC-2. The other airlines that came together to form American Airlines similarly brought different aircraft with them. But the airline’s first CEO, C R Smith, soon began work with Douglas to bring in new aircraft. In 1936, American became the first airline to fly the new DC-3.
American’s propeller aircraft
The large-scale ramp-up of American’s fleet began after the Second World War. The DC-3 served the airline well, and it went on to operate 113 of them, retiring the last in 1955. The Convair CV-240 joined it.
It also operated large fleets of Douglas’ four-engined DC-4, DC-6, and DC-7. It also later operated the Lockheed L-188A Electra.
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American’s Boeing jets
American Airlines entered the jet age with the Boeing 707. It introduced the first in 1959. It had previously ordered the Comet (the first commercial jet aircraft to be developed) but canceled this order are problems were discovered with the aircraft fuselage.
The 707 were a major part of American’s fleet, with the airline operating 112 of them. It kept its relationship with Boeing and introduced the 727 in 1964. It operated over 180 of them and did not retire the type until 2002.
American Airlines was an early adopter of the 747, but it only ever operated the first two variants. It had 18 747-100s, two 747SP aircraft, and just one 747-200. It retired its last 747-100 in 1985, then operated the two 747SP later between 1986 and 1994.
The 767 was introduced in 1982. It operated 107 Boeing 767s, including 40 767-200s and 67 of the larger -300s.
The 757, introduced in 1989, was an important part of American’s fleet, with 177 757-200s. It operated domestic routes as well as transatlantic and Latin American services. The type stayed in service until 2020, retired early amidst American’s fleet simplification.
The 737 has become a main part of the narrowbody fleet, but American did not originally order it. It joined the fleet in 1987 after American Airlines merged with AirCal. American Airlines retired many 737s in the early 1990s but ordered more Next Generation, and later MAX, aircraft. It remains committed to the 737 MAX, with 100 ordered, and was the first US airline to resume services in 2020.
The 777 joined the fleet in 1999, first with the 777-200. The 777-300ER joined in 2012. Today it has a total fleet of 67 777s. And the latest Boeing addition has been the 787, with 24 787-8 and 22 787-9 aircraft.
The later jet information here is based on fleet information reported by planespotters.net.
Adding Airbus aircraft
While Douglas and Boeing account for much of American Airlines’ early history, more manufacturers later joined the fleet. Its relationship with Airbus began with Airbus’ first aircraft, the A300, in 1988. The uptake followed extensive marketing by Airbus in the US and a previous order from Eastern Airlines.
The A300 worked well for American on shorter, high-demand routes, including Latin America and cargo use. It operated 35 A300-600 aircraft and retired the last in 2010.
Other Airbus aircraft were acquired after its merger with US Airways. In the widebody fleet, the A330s transferred in 2013 and 2014. In total, there were 15 A330-200 and nine A330-300 aircraft. Like the 757, these were a casualty of fleet simplification in 2020, with all aircraft retired despite recent upgrade work on the A330-200.
And with narrowbodies, the A320 family joined American after the merger. American has stuck with this mixed narrowbody fleet and has more aircraft on order (including the A321XLR). It has, in fact, become the world’s largest A320 family operator.
Other jet manufacturers
The past decades have seen plenty of other aircraft – from McDonnell Douglas, Embraer and Fokker.
One of the most significant from a fleet perspective was McDonnell Douglas MD-80, introduced in 1983. American has operated 383 of these (including the MD-82, MD-83, and MD-87) – almost a third of all aircraft built. It was also known as the ‘Mad Dog.’
The MD-80 started as a fuel-efficient alternative to the Boeing 727 and expanded in use through several acquisitions. Its long relationship came to an end with the last retired in 2019.
Also with McDonnell Douglas, it also operated the MD-11 from 1991 to 2001. And five MD-90 flew between 1999 and 2005. The MD-95 (later becoming the Boeing 717) joined this, with up to 20 aircraft in service until 2003.
For some time, it also operated a sizeable fleet of Fokker 100 aircraft (75 in total). These were retired in 2002, with high operating costs cited as a leading reason (likely not helped by the demise of Fokker some years before).
Embraer has featured as well, with 20 ERJ1-190s operated from 2013 until 2020. As with the aircraft fleet, these came from US Airways. More ERJ aircraft still operate, though, through its subsidiary American Eagle.
British Aerospace has made an appearance too. American acquired the BAe 146 (mostly from AirCal) between 1987 and 1989, operating just eight of them, with the last leaving in 1994.
American’s fleet today
Following its retirement and consolidation in 2020, American today operates a much simpler fleet. Its all-Boeing widebody fleet consists of (according to planespotters.net):
- 777-200: 47 aircraft
- 777-300ER: 20 aircraft
- 787-8: 24 aircraft
- 787-9: 22 aircraft
The airline did inherit an order for 22 A350 aircraft from US Airways but canceled this in April 2018 in favor of the 787. Fleet simplification was cited as a major reason. Going forward, there are more 787s on order, but these have been delayed.
And the narrowbody fleet is split between Boeing and Airbus:
- A319: 133 aircraft
- A320: 48 A320-200 aircraft
- A321: 218 A320-200 and 37 A321neo aircraft
- 737 NG: 303 737-800 aircraft
- 737 MAX: 41 aircraft
We have focussed here on the fleet of American Airlines. The American Airlines Group also operates American Eagle as a regional branch (itself made up of several operating airlines). Together, American Eagle operates a fleet of 573 aircraft. This includes the Embraer ERJ-145 and ERJ-175 and the Bombardier CRJ-700 and CRJ-900. Previously, it also operated the ATR 42, ATR 72, and Saab 340.
American Airlines has operated a huge variety of aircraft over its long history – some its own introductions and some acquired from other airlines. Feel free to discuss more about different parts of this fleet in the comments.