Boeing has been a leading aircraft manufacturer throughout modern aviation. It has grown since its founding in 1916, both through its own innovation and through various mergers and acquisitions. Of course, it competes fiercely with the much younger Airbus, but (for now) can still claim to have the most produced commercial jet aircraft to date, the 737. This article looks at which are its best selling jets to date, based on aircraft delivered (from Boeing data).
The Boeing 737-800 (4,989 aircraft delivered)
Of course, Boeing’s best-selling and most produced aircraft has been the Boeing 737. This is ahead of the Airbus A320 family for total deliveries, but not anymore for orders.
The Boeing 737 has been flying since 1967 and has evolved through several series and variants since then. Each series has made improvements to meet customer demands at the time. This has included different sized variants, improved efficiency, and specific adaptions to gain market share (such as equipping the 737-200 for gravel landings). It has also adapted, of course, to meet the competition from the A320 family.
Topping the list of the 737 variants, though, is the 737-800. This is the mid-sized version of the Next Generation series, which entered service in April 1988 with Hapag-Lloyd Flug (later to become TUIfly). With 4989 deliveries, it is way ahead of any of the other variants (the 737-700 is far behind in second place with 1,128 deliveries).
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The Next Generation offered a great step up in efficiency and also came at the time of huge growth in low-cost airlines. But the success of the 737-800 is largely due to its compromises. It offers an excellent combination of range and capacity, not the largest of either, but a very versatile option for many airlines.
The 737 MAX could well take over, as long as orders hold following its issues and the slowdown in 2020. Unfilled orders as of December 2020 stand at 4039, with 387 aircraft delivered.
Boeing 727 (1,831 aircraft delivered)
Outside of the 737 family, the next most popular Boeing aircraft has been the Boeing 727. Long out of production (and commercial service), 1,831 aircraft were built and delivered from 1962.
The 727 built on the success of Boeing’s first jet airliner, the 707. It addressed the demand for shorter flights, offering a more economical three-engine jet.
The MD-80 launched in 1980 with Swissair, although American Airlines went on to be the largest operator, with 360 aircraft at peak. American Airlines retired its last MD-80 in 2019; Delta operated it until June 2020.
Boeing 757-200 (913 aircraft)
Boeing moved on from the success of the 727 and developed the narrowbody 757 alongside the widebody 767. It proved a popular and versatile aircraft, with good range and performance in extreme environments, and remained in production for 23 years.
There are two variants (the 757-200 and 757-300). But the 737-300 was largely a failure (with only 55 sales), leaving the 757-200 to dominate. The 757-300 was an impressive stretch (it is still the longest twinjet narrowbody). But it was launched much later, and airlines just did not want the extra capacity, with the reduced range and increased operating cost that came with it.
Top of the widebodies – Boeing 777-300ER (822 aircraft)
For many years the Boeing 747 was the most sold widebody. It was overtaken by the 777 though in 2014. Its development and rise really came about with the increasing ability of twin-engine aircraft. It offered more seats than the 767 but less than the 747, which filled a gap in the market. But it was the changes in ETOPS that sealed its success.
The 777 developed quickly. The 777-200’s range was improved by the 777-200ER (allowing longer transatlantic flights). 422 777-200ERs were sold, but replaced relatively quickly by the 777-300ER, combined the improved range with more capacity. This proved a winning combination for long-haul flights, and of course, it remains popular today with many airlines.
Next best widebody – Boeing 767-300ER (583 aircraft)
Although the 747 beats the 767 for total series sales (1559 747s have been delivered compared to 1,200 767s), the 767 has the better selling individual variant.
The 767-300ER was by far the best selling of the series. This came quickly after the launch of the early 767-200 and offered desirable improvements in both capacity and range. The 767-300s soon became the dominant variant and remain so today.
Hounourable mention – the DC-3
The DC-3 fails to meet the list for several reasons. Principally, it is not a jet, and it was built by Douglas, not Boeing. But it beats any of the aircraft on Boeing’s (or Airbus‘) best-selling list. Between 1935 and 1952 though, over 16,000 aircraft were built.
Only 607 of these were passenger DC-3 versions, though. The rest were military variants produced as different models in the US, UK, the Soviet Union, and Japan.
Would you like to share any thoughts on Boeing’s most popular aircraft, either current or past? Let us know in the comments.