Then And Now: A Look At The Icelandair Fleet

Icelandair started operations in 1937 and has flown a wide variety of aircraft over its long history. Today it is well known for its majority Bpeing fleet – still making good use of the popular Boeing 757. Looking back, though, it has been a major customer of other manufacturers, including Fokker, Douglas, and de Havilland.

Then And Now: A Look At The Icelandair Fleet
Boeing aircraft dominate the current Icelandair fleet, but in the past, it has operated many other aircraft. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Limited pre-war fleet

Icelandair had simple beginnings in 1937, with a single Waco floatplane used for domestic services in Iceland. It added land-based small aircraft in the early 1940s – two Beechcraft model 18 aircraft, two de Havilland Dragon Rapides, and two Stinson Reliant aircraft.

In 1944, it added its first flying boat, the Consolidated PBY Catalina, and started longer flights, first to the UK and the US. Icelandair went on to operate five of these aircraft, retiring the last in 1960. It also operated the Grumman Goose amphibious flying boat.

Building its Douglas fleet

After the Second World War, many airlines began introducing fleets of new propeller aircraft. Icelandair was no exception, and it introduced the Douglas DC-3 (as the military C-47 model) in 1946. It operated 10 DC-3s and seven DC-4s, right up to 1970 (and one DC-3 remains preserved now). It brought in the larger DC-6 in 1959, operating just two of them.

Icelandair DC-3
Icelandair has preserved one DC-3 aircraft. Photo: Gordon Leggett via Wikimedia

Icelandair entered the jet age with the Boeing 727 in 1967, but it also stuck with Douglas and built up a large fleet of DC-8 aircraft. Its first aircraft in 1971 were leased cargo versions, but it took its own aircraft from 1977 and went on to operate a fleet of up to 24 aircraft. They stayed with the airline until the late 1980s. It also operated one DC-10 – a cargo version leased in.

Icelandair DC-8
Icelandair operated a large fleet of DC-8s throughout the 1980s. Photo: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia

Fokker, Vickers Viscount, Airbus, and Lockheed

While Douglas dominated the early fleet and Boeing the later one, plenty of other aircraft were used. Fooker stands out as the most numerous long-term relationship here. Icelandair operated a fleet of 18 Fokker F27 turboprops from 1965 until 1992, replacing just four of them with the improved Fokker F50.

Icelandair Fokker 50
Icelandair’s Fokker 50s were in regioanl Flugleiðir branding. Photo: Steve Knight via Flickr

Its first turboprop aircraft though was the Vickers Viscount, operating two aircraft from 1957 to 1963 and 1967.

Icelandair Vickers Viscount
Icelandair operated two Vickers Viscount aircraft. Photo: RuthAS via Wikimedia

Lockheed made a brief appearance in the fleet, with one leased Lockheed L-1011-50 Tristar.

Airbus aircraft have never featured in the fleet. There have just been three short-term leased aircraft – one A319 from GetJet in summer 2019 and two A320 for very short periods.

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Introducing Boeing jets

Like many airlines, Icelandair’s relationship with Boeing began after the introduction of its jets. Icelandair never operated the first jet, the 707, but purchased the Boeing 727 as its first jet aircraft. It operated seven 727s  with the 727-200 staying in service until 1990.

Icelandair 727-100
Icelandair’s first jet aircraft was the Boeing 727-100. Photo: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia

Icelandair introduced the 737-300 in 1991, operating three 737-300s and five 737-400s. It ordered the 737-800 but never operated them, instead leasing them to other airlines. It has stuck with Boeing narrowbodies after the retirement of the early 737s and now operates the 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9.

The Boeing 747 did appear in the fleet for a short time. Icelandair leased one 747-100 aircraft for a few months in 1984.

The Boeing 757 was a significant move for Icelandair. The aircraft was popular with many airlines for its range and performance, and it has suited Icelandair well. In total, it has operated 51 757-200s (in both passenger and cargo configuration), and two 757-300s.

Boeing-dominated fleet today

Icelandair’s fleet in 2021 is still dominated by the Boeing 757. It has 18 757-200 and two 757-300 aircraft in use (as of July 2021, according to fleet data from ch-aviation.com). It also operates four 767-300ER aircraft, six 737 MAX 8, and three 737 MAX 9s.

Then And Now: A Look At The Icelandair Fleet
Icelandair is still the largest 757 user across the North Atlantic. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The only other aircraft in the fleet is the Dash 8. Icelandair has three  Dash 8-200, and two Dash 8-400 aircraft leased into the fleet.

Looking forward, Icelandair will soon need to replace its 757s. These have served the airline well but are now aging. The airline has previously said it is looking at the A321LR as a replacement but has yet to confirm or order any. In January 2021, CEO Bogi Nils Bogason told Simple Flying:

We have had our long-term fleet strategy under review since 2019, analyzing which aircraft would be the most suitable replacement for the 757 within the 2025-2027 timeframe. We already see opportunities for our network with aircraft types that can replace the 757 going forward and we have been reviewing a few different scenarios for our future fleet.

“Currently, the Airbus A321LR, for example, seems to be a very good replacement candidate for the 757 and is one of the options that we have been analyzing thoroughly.”

Icelandair has a relatively simple fleet today, but not so much in the past. There is plenty to discuss regarding the airline’s historical fleet and its future plans. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. 

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