Everything You Need To Know About The World’s Most Unique 747

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KLM operates a unique Boeing 747 combi aircraft called the B747-400M. These aircraft are half passenger airplane, half freight airplane.

KLM 747
While KLM currently operates 12 B747 aircraft, 8 of these are Combis. Photo KLM

KLM first poked its head into the combi market in 1975 when it placed an order for 7 B747-200 combi aircraft. When the airline decided it was time to renew its fleet around a decade later, the airline ordered five regular B747-400, and fifteen combi aircraft.

Low Capacity Routes

There is an awful lot of money to be made by transporting cargo. Typically commercial passenger flights will have some cargo on the hold. This could be anything from international mail to live animals. Unfortunately, as cargo is neatly packaged into airplane sized crates, there is no possibility to store cargo on empty seats. KLM knew this, so instead of buying full passenger 747s, it bought some combi aircraft to operate on its quieter routes. This meant the airline was able to fill its seating areas and carry more cargo.

747 Combi Seat Plan
The KLM Seat Plan shows that 40% of the regular economy cabin is taken up by cargo. Image: KLM

Large Rear Door

KLM are the only operator of the B747-400M (M means mixed). While the aircraft may look like any other B747 from afar, you can tell which is a combi by looking at the port side of the fuselage. It may seem similar to usual, however, there will be a large cargo door at the rear of the aircraft to allow access to the additional cargo space.

Smaller Economy Area

The combi 747 operated by KLM only has a smaller economy section. The business section of the aircraft is exactly the same as on a regular B747, in addition to the premium economy section. The economy section works out as 40% smaller on the combi. Behind the economy section is a small galley and a wall. The wall separates the passenger and freight sections of the craft. It has a passage for crews to cross in an emergency, as well as strong fireproofing.

Special Cargo

KLM Loads Pandas
KLM transported pandas in special crates on its Combi 747. Image: KLM

The Combi B747 has carried some special cargo during its time in service with KLM. While Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas were FedExed from China to Scotland, Ouwehands Zoo’s traveled on a combi 747. Pandas aren’t the only interesting cargo carried on the -400Ms. Cars are often loaded onto the aircraft in front of passengers waiting at the gate. They have also been known to carry spare engines from point to point to meet demand.

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How Can I Fly On One?

KLM St Martin Landing
KLM used to operate the B747-400M on its famous Amsterdam – St Martin route. Photo: KLM

The B747-400M operates a wealth of routes the world over. From the airline’s hub at Amsterdam Schiphol, the combi 747s fly to Chicago, Delhi, Los Angeles, Nairobi, Paramaribo, San Francisco, and Xiamen. While the -400M used to be used on KLM’s famous Amsterdam to St Martin route, it has since been replaced by an A330. Sooner or later these aircraft will be retired, making now the perfect opportunity to take a flight.

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