What Happened To Japan Airlines’ Boeing 747s?

Like many airlines around the world, Japan Airlines (JAL) no longer operates 747s. It hasn’t since 2011 when the airline retired its last 747-400s. What makes JAL stand out from so many other 747 operators is the sheer variety of 747s it flew over the years. The JAL group of airlines, which includes JAL Cargo, flew many different types of 747s between 1970 and 2011. In this article, we look at what happened to JAL’s 747s.

A Japan Airlines 747 at Narita in 2004. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JAL was a big operator of 747s

Between 1970 and 2011, JAL operated 144 747s. Planespotters provides a wealth of information on each and every 747 JAL ever flew. They flew 20 747-100s and several variations of this type including 747-146s, 747SR-46s, 747SR-146B, 747SR-146B(SUD) and a single 747-146SF. 

JAL also flew several variations of the 747-200 family including 747-246Bs, 747-246F(SCD)s, 747-246Fs, 747-221F(SCD)s, 747-246B(SF)s, 747-246(SCD)s and a sole 747-212B(SF).

In JALs 747-300 family they only had two variations, the 747-346 and 747-338.

The final type of 747 JAL flew was the 747-400. They had four variations, the 747-446, 747-446F, 747-446(BCF) and 747-446(D).

It is an eclectic mix of 747s. Not all flew passengers – a lot only carried freight. But having operated so many 747s, JAL now has none. Where have they gone?

The 747-100 planes

JAL flew twenty 747-100s between 1970 and 2006. All except one were onsold to a variety of airlines between 1982 and 2006. The one exception was JA8119, a 747SR-46 which was written off after crashing in August 1985.

A Japan Airlines 747-146(SUD) departing Tokyo in 1999. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The last JAL 747-100 left the airline in December 2006. JA8170, a 747SR-146B(SUD) went to Thai Orient Airlines.

The 747-200 planes

JAL operated thirty-four 747-200s between 1971 and 2009. All except one went to other airlines or back to their lessors after their working life at JAL. Kalitta Air took ten 747-200s over the years. One 747-246B met an unfortunate end. JA8109 was hijacked and destroyed in 1973.

The last 747-200, JA8171 was a 747-246F(SCD) and operated as a cargo plane for JAL. It went to Kalitta Air in October 2009.

The 747-300 planes

In contrast to such a wide variety in the 747-100 and 200 families, JAL only flew sixteen 747-300 and restricted operating types to two. JAL had thirteen 747-346s and three 747-338s. The 747-300s flew for JAL between 1984 and 2010. All were returned to their lessors or onsold to other airlines.

JA812J, a Japan Airlines 747-346. Photo: Kentaro Iemoto via Flickr.

The three 747-338s belonged to Qantas who leased them to JAL. Two went back to Qantas and one went to Garuda Indonesia.

The 747-400 planes

Of the four 747 families, the 747-400 fleet was JALs largest. They flew 44 of them between 1990 and 2011. That included twenty eight 747-446s, eight 747-446Ds, six 747-446BCFs, and two 747-446Fs. All went back to their lessors or were onsold. The majority of the 747-400s appear to be leased from financial institutions such as Wells Fargo and Aersale.

JA8088, one of Japan Airlines’ 747-400s in 1997. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr.

There was a flurry of 747-400s returned in 2010 and 2011 as JAL retired their 747 aircraft. It would have been a sad day for many people in October 2011 when the last JAL 747, JA8992, a 747-446 went back to Wells Fargo. JAL flew that plane for 10 years on passenger services since it came to the carrier factory fresh in July 2001.

JA8992 still flies though. It went to Transaero for a year before finding a new life flying for Rossiya, where to do this day it still flies scheduled services.