The Largest Aircraft Orders Of All Time

Very large aircraft orders are not something we are seeing much of with the slowdown in aviation in 2020 and 2021; hopefully, we will again soon. But looking back, there have been some massive orders placed. Such deals are very important for manufacturers, providing not just funding security but also boosting models’ reputation. We look at some of the largest such orders (by value or size) in past years.

Emirates 777X
Emirates’ order for 150 777X aircraft is the highest value single order to date. Photo: Boeing

Sealing the deal

Large orders understandably often draw significant attention for both airlines and manufacturers. They are often unveiled jointly at airshows, but not always. Such deals and the detailed pricing, though, are not always made public. Discounts from list price are usual for orders (especially so for large ones). Simple Flying looked at this previously, showing typical discounts of around 50%.

Another important point to note is that orders change. Announced orders are often reduced later, or aircraft switched to other types. The deals listed here are based on orders as originally made.

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Boeing 777X order from Emirates – $76 billion in 2013

The largest order in recent history came from Emirates in 2013. Its order for 150 new Boeing 777X aircraft was valued at $76 billion. This was made up of 35 777-8 and 115 777-9 aircraft. It remains the largest order for this exciting new aircraft.

Emirates, Boeing 777X, 2024
Emirates’ 777X aircraft are being built. Photo: Boeing

There have been delays in 777X development, though, and changes to the order. In 2019, Emirates reduced the order by 24 aircraft, committing to take up the 787 instead. Further delays in the 777X program mean that Emirates is now unlikely to take first delivery of the 777X until 2024. It also may switch more orders to the smaller 787.

Boeing 777X test flight getty images
The Boeing 777X’s started test flights in 2000, but airline deliveries have been delayed. Photo: Getty Images

American Airlines – 460 aircraft in 2011

American Airlines holds the record for the most aircraft ordered at the same time. In 2011 it announced the purchase of 460 narrowbody aircraft from both Airbus and Boeing. This included 260 A320 and 200 Boeing 737 family aircraft. The deal was valued at over $38 billion at the time.

American Airbus A321
American Airlines now operates the largest A320 fleet through these orders and its merger with US Airways. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Airbus A320neo order from Indigo Partners – $49.5 billion in 2017

Airbus’ largest order to date came from US private equity fund Indigo Partners in 2017. This was for 430 A320neo aircraft; specifically 274 A320neos and 156 larger A321neos.

The company has the advantage of being able to spread the aircraft over several airlines. This allows flexibility in its order (it does not need to confirm the exact airline split) and likely increased negotiating power. The aircraft will be shared between:

  • Frontier Airlines (US)
  • Wizz Air (Hungary)
  • Volaris (Mexico)
  • JetSmart (Chile)
Indigo Partners airlines
Indigo Partners is splitting its order between four airlines. Photo: Airbus

This order went further in 2019, with a memorandum of understanding order for 50 A321XLR aircraft (18 converted from the existing order). Wizz Air plans to take 20 of these (hopefully from 2023) and Frontier 18.

Airbus A320neo order from IndiGo – $33 billion in 2019

Not to be confused with Indigo Partners, Indian airline IndiGo also has placed a very large Airbus order. This came in 2019, with an order for 300 A320neo family aircraft.

The airline has expanded dramatically in recent years. With the delivery of A320 aircraft in late 2019, it became the largest airline in Indian, and this growth continues as more aircraft are delivered. It plans to become an all A320neo airline in the coming years.

This order also includes the A321XLR, although it is not clear how many. The A321XLR offers huge potential for IndiGo, with a range of 4700 nautical miles enabling routes to London, European cities, most of Africa, and even Perth.

IndiGo A320neo
IndiGo is set to become an all A320neo airline. Photo: Getty Images

Boeing 737 MAX – Lion Air – 230 aircraft in 2012 for $21.7 billion

Simple Flying took a detailed look at the largest orders for the Boeing 737 MAX in late 2020. Several airlines have made large orders – Southwest Airlines has 281, flydubai and Lion Air both have 251, and VietJet has 200 (an incredible order for an airline with only 73 aircraft at the time).

These orders have all been made over several years. Lion Air takes the lead for the largest single order, though, ordering 201 737 MAX aircraft in February 2012 (it added 50 more in 2017). It also ordered 29 737-900 aircraft at the same time, in what Boeing referred to as its largest commercial aircraft order to date, with a list price of $21.7 billion.

Lion AIr 737-900ER
Like Southwest and flydubai, Lion Air only operates the 737. Photo: Getty Images

Honorable mention – Pan Am’s 747 order in 1966

Pan American World Airways worked with Boeing closely on the 747 and committed to a $500 million order for aircraft in 1966 (equivalent to $4.1 billion in 2021).

PanAm Boeing 747-100 named
Pan Am’s financial commitment to the 747 was vital at the time. Photo: Getty Images

It may not be the largest ever aircraft order, but this was a very significant order at the time. It was a major catalyst in the development of the jumbo, and without it, it may never have happened. Such close collaboration between manufacturers and airlines is unusual today.

There are plenty of interesting, important, or large aircraft orders over the years. These are just a few of the largest ever placed. Feel free to discuss these or how they have changed since being placed in the comments. 

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