The Boeing 737 Combi range of aircraft were, at the time, a gamechanger for key airlines. Operators who were working in the most remote and disconnected communities found these efficient, reliable and versatile aircraft to be just what they needed to cope with thin passenger traffic and essential cargo deliveries. Here’s what you need to know about the 737 Combi, and where you can fly it today.
What is a combi aircraft?
The Boeing 737 is a popular aircraft worldwide, but only a handful received the ‘combi’ designation. Derived from the iconic VW Type 2 van, known in German as the Kombinationskraftwagen (or Kombi for short), these aircraft maximized cargo capacity whilst still allowing for a decent number of passenger seats.
Combi aircraft have large cargo doors on the side, as well as tracks installed on the floor of the hold, allowing the airline flexibility to add and remove seats as demand requires. The flexibility of the 737 Combi made it popular on routes that served remote locations, with low passenger loads and high demand for goods deliveries.
As such, it should come as no surprise that airlines operating in the north of North America and in other similarly remote regions were historically the biggest operators of this type of aircraft. Previous operators include Alaska Airlines, who had a fleet of five 737-400 combis, all deployed on its ‘Milk Run’ routes, Icelandair and numerous current and former operators in Canada.
While the exact configuration tends to vary by airline, the 737 combi usually features a large cargo area up front with passenger seating at the back. As an example, the 737-400Cs previously operated by Alaska Airlines had 72 seats down the back, separated from the cargo area by an airtight bulkhead. This made for an interesting experience for the passengers on board, reducing the size of the cabin by around half.
Who operates the 737 combi now?
Boeing made a few versions of the 737 as combi aircraft. The first was the 737-200C and 737-300C, which included the QC “quick change” version. Then came the 737-400C, which was favored by Alaska Airlines among others, and finally the 737-700C.
None of these aircraft are in production anymore, and the ones that remain are getting rather old. However, if you aspire to fly a 737 combi before they all disappear for good, there are still a few options on the table.
The 737 Classic Combi
Unsurprisingly, Canadian regional airline Nolinor is one of the biggest operators of the 737-200C left flying. It has four listed on AirFleets as still being in service, two of which are 40 years old, one which is 36 and one that’s the grand old age of 43. These are convertible 737s, and can seat up to 119 passengers or can be entirely converted to cargo, or a combination of both. Nolinor also operates on 737-300QC, which offers conversion for up to 130 passengers or a combination of passengers and cargo.
Canadian North is another major operator of the Combi type. The airline has two 737-200C and two 737-300QC in its fleet. The -200s offer up to 112 passenger seats with no cargo, down to just six seats and six pallets of cargo. The -300s can either take 120 passengers or 80 passengers plus three pallets of cargo. The airline is expecting delivery of four 737-400C from First Air, all of which are configured for 72 seats and four pallets of cargo.
Sticking in North America, Air Inuit has three -200C and one 300QC in service. All are convertible, with the -200s offering between 112 and 0 passenger seats plus 0 to six pallets of space, and the -300QC up to 130 seats with 0 pallets to zero seats and eight pallets.
Mining company Glencore Canada has one 737-200 combi in service, which is configured for 76 passengers and cargo. It’s over 40 years old.
Outside of North America, the 737C is even harder to find. In Pakistan, Vision Air has two 737-300QC, both around 30 years old. One 737-300QC is in Indonesia, flying for Deraya Air Taxi. However its being used as a cargo aircraft only, so isn’t available to fly.
The rare 737-700C
TAAG Angola, based in Angola, has one 737-700C in its fleet. This type was introduced by Boeing in 2001, and was launched commercially with Air Algerie. However, the airline rarely used it for passenger operations, rather flying it mainly in a 100% cargo configuration taking up to 40,000 lbs of freight on board. The US Navy still has 17 of these aircraft in service, which it calls the C-40A Clipper.
Many of the 737 Combis that were produced have been turned over to 100% cargo operations now. Most airlines have found that the demand for passenger and cargo flights to be enough that they don’t need a plane that can carry both at the same time. However, it’s clear that if you’re keen to fly on a 737 Combi, the far north of North America is your best bet.
Have you flown a 737C? Know of any operators we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!