What Airlines Operate The Smallest 787 Dreamliner Variant?

The Boeing 787 project was launched with the vision of a new, efficiency focussed clean-sheet design to follow on from the popular 777. It has been a great success for Boeing, with over 1,000 aircraft delivered to date (and 483 more on order). 377 of these deliveries have been for the smaller 787-8 variant. This article takes a look at the current main operators.

American Airlines Boeing 787-8 N819AN
American is one of the largest 787-8 operators (and the largest in the US). Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The smallest 787 – the 787-8

Boeing had great success with the 777. It first flew in 1994 and has gone on to be the most sold widebody aircraft to date. The next widebody though, took a different direction. Boeing chose to focus the 787 on improving efficiency and lowering operating costs. It aimed to offer around a 20% efficiency improvement over the similar-sized 767, with more efficient engines, composite materials, and aerodynamic upgrades.

The move was bold at the time but proved so successful that Airbus had to revisit its plans for the A350 – also developing a composite clean-sheet design rather than an upgrade to the A330 as it originally planned.

Airbus, Deliveries, 2020
Airbus revised its A350XWB plans following the success of the Boeing 787. Photo: Getty Images

The 787 was originally conceived with three different variants.  The 787-8 was the first to enter service in December 2009 and the larger 787-9 in September 2013. The 787-3 would have had the same fuselage size as the 787-8 but with increased capacity. It was dropped in 2010 amindst delays to the 787 program, and interested Japanese airlines switched to the 787-8. The larger 787-10 followed in 2013, entering service with Singapore Airlines in 2018.

The smallest 787-8 offers a typical capacity of around 242 in two-class configuration (the 787-9 increases this to 290 and the 787-10 to 330). As for length, it has a fuselage length of 56.72 meters (186 feet 1 inch), compared to the 787-9 at 62.81 meters (206 feet 1 inch).

As of July 2021, 45 airlines operate the smaller 787-8 variant (according to data from ch-aviation.com). Which airlines are the main operators?

The 787-8 in Japan – JAL and ANA

The 787-8 is popular with Japanese airlines. All Nippon Airways (ANA) and JAL take the first and third position for the largest fleets. These aircraft are well used on Japan’s most popular domestic routes but also many long-haul routes. Using widebodies on domestic routes in Japan is nothing new. The 747SR was developed as a short-range variant of the 747-100 for this purpose, and the 747-400D followed. The 787-3 would have served a similar role if Boeing had not dropped it.

ANA was the launch customer for the 787 in 2011 and now flies the largest fleet overall (as well as the largest of just the 787-8). It has 36 787-8s, as well as 37 787-9s (and 11 more on order).

ANA was the launch customer for the 787. Photo: Getty Images

JAL is some way behind with 27 787-8s. These outnumber its 22 787-9s, though. It has no more on order, and when other airlines take committed orders, it will lose its third place. It also has another two 787-8s in service with its subsidiary ZIPAIR.

JAL Japan Airlines 787-8
JAL operates 27 787-8s. Photo: Getty Images

Qatar Airways – second place

Qatar Airways come in second with its fleet of 30 787-8s. It is the smallest widebody in the fleet, and it serves many African and Middle Eastern routes and some lower-demand European destinations.

The smaller aircraft worked out very well for Qatar Airways during the pandemic, demonstrating the advantages of a mixed fleet. It remains so as travel resumes.

Qatar Airways 787-8
The smaller 787-8 is a major part of the Qatar Airways fleet – it will be matched by the 787-9 when all orders are received. Photo: Getty Images.

Air India

Air India operates a fleet of 27 787-8s – the same size fleet as JAL. It was an early adopter of the 787 and is the only airline to operate just the 787-8.

It makes up the majority of the airline’s widebody fleet – operating alongside 18 777s and four 747s (currently inactive but likely not to be retired just yet). The 787-8 flies to many European and Asian destinations. It has also operated from Delhi to Washington DC – one of the longest 787-8 routes to date and pushing the range of the aircraft.

Air India Boeing 787
The 787-8 makes up the majority of Air India’s widebody fleet. Photo: Getty Images

American Airlines – largest US operator

American Airlines is currently in fifth place with a fleet of 24 787-8s. The airline has made a major commitment to the 787, with 13 more 787-8s on order and a total fleet of 52 787-9s once all aircraft on order are delivered.

United Airlines comes in behind with 12 787-8 aircraft. But it has a larger fleet overall of 63 787s (including the 787-9 and the 787-10).

United Airlines, Boeing 787, Top Airline
United Airlines is the largest US operator overall for the 787 – including the 787-10. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian Airlines has grown dramatically to have the largest fleet of any African airline and become the continent’s leading airline. The 787-8 is the most numerous aircraft in the fleet – with 19 aircraft. Its competitor, the A350-900, comes in just behind with 16 aircraft (but there are eight more on order). The 787 order is now fully delivered.

Ethiopian Airlines B787
The 787-8 is a major part of Ethiopian Airlines’ fleet. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

And many other operators

These are the top 787-8 operators, but there are many more – 45 in total (Including private / VIP use). Other airlines operating more than 10 aircraft are:

  • Avianca Airlines – 13 aircraft
  • British Airways – 12 aircraft
  • Jetstar Airways – 11 aircraft
  • Scoot – 10 aircraft
  • LATAM – 10 aircraft
  • Hainan Airlines – 10 aircraft
  • China Southern Airlines – 10 aircraft
British Airways 787 -8
British Airways operates 12 787-8, as well as the 787-9 and the 787-10. Photo: British Airways

And with more than five aircraft in the fleet, we can add Kenya Airways (9), Air Europa (8), Aeromexico (8), Air Canada (8), LOT Polish Airlines (8), TUI Airways (8), Royal Jordanian (7), Uzbekistan Airways (7), Xiamen Airlines (6), Thai Airways (6), Royal Air Maric (5) and Royal Brunei Airlines (5).

And the smaller operators include Biman Bangladesh Airlines (4), TUI Fly (3), Norwegian (3), El Al (3), Air Tanzania (2), AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines (2), Oman Air (2), Air Austral (2), and Korean Air (1).

The 787-8 is certainly popular with airlines, serving an important role with many even if it has been overtaken in orders by the larger 787-9. Is it one of your preferred aircraft? Let us know in the comments.