What Happened To Korean Air’s Passenger Boeing 747-400s?

Korean Air is known for being a rare operator of the passenger-carrying version of Boeing’s 747-8. However, this is far from the first variant of the US manufacturer’s iconic ‘jumbo jet’ that the South Korean flag carrier has operated. Indeed, as recently as last year, the Skyteam founding member also had the popular 747-400 in its fleet. Let’s take a closer look at the story of the 27 examples of this variant that flew passengers for Korean Air over the years.

Korean Air Boeing 747-400
All in all, Korean Air flew 27 passenger 747-400s over the years. Photo: FN2187 via Flickr

When did they arrive?

Korean Air began flying the Boeing 747-400 as a replacement for older variants of the legendary ‘Queen of the skies.’ It had previously flown examples of the 747-200 and 747-300 variants. The latter of these had been quickly overshadowed by the 747-400’s increased range and two-person glass cockpit. This resulted in Boeing selling just 81 units.

According to data from ch-aviation.com, the first of Korean Air’s 27 passenger-carrying examples of the 747-400 arrived at the airline in June 1989. This aircraft initially bore the registration HL7477, although Korean Air re-registered it twice during its tenure.

A further two examples had also joined the airline before 1989 drew to a close. Almost all of the South Korean flag carrier’s remaining passenger 747-400s then came onboard during the 1990s. Indeed, HL7465 (September 2001) was the only arrival after the turn of the century.

Korean Air Boeing 747 Getty
Korean Air used its -400s to replace its older versions of the 747 family. Photo: Getty Images

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When did they leave?

Except for HL7496, which was written off after a fatality-free runway overrun in Seoul in 1998, the bulk of Korean Air’s passenger-carrying 747-400s left the airline in the 2010s. Interestingly, multiple examples that left in the 2000s returned to the airline as converted freighters. Other destinations included Atlas Air, Kalitta Air, and Max Air.

As Simple Flying reported at the time, Korean Air was due to retire its last passenger-carrying 747-400s in 2019. However, the airline opted to temporarily delay the type’s final retirements in order to deploy the 747-400 on its between Seoul and Denpasar.

Its final two 747-400s eventually left the fleet in February and March 2020. It scrapped one of these aircraft (HL7461), and the other (HL7402) joined US cargo carrier Kalitta Air. However, Kalitta is only keeping the aircraft in storage for use as a ‘spares ship.’

Korean Air Boeing 747-400ERF
Today, Korean Air only uses the 747-400 to carry cargo. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Cargo examples remain active

As it happens, Korean Air’s retirement of its final passenger-carrying 747-400s last year didn’t end the airline’s relationship with the type in general. Indeed, data from ch-aviation shows that four examples continue to fly for the South Korean flag carrier’s cargo division.

These aircraft are examples of the 747-400ERF (Extended Range Freighter), and have an average age of 15.8 years old. They operate alongside the cargo variant of Boeing’s more modern 747-8. This makes Korean Air the only carrier to operate both the passenger-carrying and cargo-carrying versions of the US manufacturer’s latest jumbo jet.

Did you ever fly on one of Korean Air’s passenger-carrying Boeing 747-400s? If so, how did you like the experience? Let us know your thoughts and memories in the comments.