Which Airlines Have The Largest Fleets?

When it comes to measuring airline size, aircraft fleet is a common metric used. However, considering the last year of aircraft retirements and fleet restructuring, many airlines are smaller than before. So which airlines have the largest fleets today?

American Airlines
US airlines dominate the list of largest carriers in the world by a long shot. Photo: Getty Images

When looking at the top 10 largest airline fleets globally, American and Chinese airlines dominate the list. Between them, they occupy nine spots on the list, with little competition from anyone else. Let’s find out which airlines make it to the top. Data in this article is courtesy of Planespotters.net.

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American Airlines

When it comes to who has the most planes, American retains its spot as the largest airline in the world by fleet size. The Fort Worth-based carrier operates 891 aircraft in total, divided into 112 widebodies and 779 narrowbodies. The most popular plane in the fleet is undoubtedly the Boeing 737-800, of which American flies 303 currently.

American Airlines 777
American’s fleet count excludes any subsidiary airlines such as American Eagle. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

On the Airbus side, American operates 133 A319s, 47 A320s, and 247 A321s, with no widebodies. American operates a far larger Boeing fleet, with 343 737s (including 40 MAXs), 67 777s, and 45 787s. Expect this number to continue growing as the airline takes delivery of new aircraft like the 737 MAX, 787, and A321neo.

United

Right on American’s toes is rival United. The Chicago-based carrier currently operates 828 aircraft, split into 210 widebodies and 618 narrowbodies. The most popular aircraft in the fleet is the Boeing 737-800, of which United flies 141 currently. United is also notable as one of the few American carriers to grow its fleet in 2020 instead of shrinking.

United 777-300ER
United operates far more widebodies than American and is on track to continue growing its fleet in 2021. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

United currently operates 54 A319s and 96 A320s, which means Airbus accounts for under 20% of the fleet. Meanwhile, United flies 61 Boeing 757s, 54 767s, 96 777s, and 60 787s, making it a loyal Boeing customer, for now.

Delta

Not far behind the competition, Delta comes in as the third-largest airline fleet. The Atlanta-based carrier operates 768 aircraft, divided into 121 widebodies and 647 narrowbodies. Even with strong ties to Airbus, Delta’s most popular aircraft is the Boeing 737-900ER, of which it flies 130.

Delta A350
Delta is an outlier among the ‘Big Four’ for having a nearly equal split among Airbus and Boeing aircraft. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Delta certainly has a more diverse fleet compared to its competitors. On the Airbus side, Delta flies 46 A220s, 57 A319s, 54 A320s, 111 A321s, 50 A330s, and 15 A350s. With Boeing, the carrier flies 45 717s, 207 737s, 127 757s, and 56 767s.

The fleet is currently split between 56% Boeing planes and 44% Airbus aircraft. However, recent retirements (such as of the 777) and considering Delta only has Airbus planes on order currently means the balance could tilt towards the European manufacturer soon.

Southwest

Rounding off the ‘Big Four’ US airlines is the world’s largest low-cost airline, Southwest. The carrier operates a fleet of 736 aircraft, exclusively made up of the Boeing 737 family. This makes the airline the largest 737 operator in the world, by a significant margin.

Southwest Boeing 737
Southwest’s decision to have a uniform fleet has become a template for low-cost carriers around the world. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Southwest’s fleet is dominated by the 737-700, of which it flies 474. In addition to the -700, the carrier also flies 207 -800s and 55 MAX 8s. However, this long history of Boeing exclusivity could be coming to an end as Southwest considers ordering the Airbus A220 to replace the aging 737-700 fleet.

China Southern

Not far behind the US giants is China’s largest airline: China Southern. The Guangzhou-based carrier operates 620 aircraft, divided into 110 widebodies and 510 narrowbodies. The most popular aircraft in the fleet is the Boeing 737-800, of which the airline operates 163.

China Southern 787
China Southern briefly became the largest airline in the world by capacity last year due to the pandemic. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

China Southern’s fleet tilts towards Airbus ever so slightly, with the carrier flying nine A319s, 142 A320s, 143 A321s, 41 A330s, eight A350s, and five A380s. On the Boeing side, the carrier operates 213 737s (including 24 grounded MAXs), two 747s, 29 777s, and 25 787s. China Southern also operates three COMAC ARJ21s and will operate the C919 in the coming year or two.

China Eastern

Number six on the list is China Eastern, the country’s second-largest airline. The Shanghai-based carrier operates 577 aircraft, consisting of 86 widebodies and 491 narrowbodies. The most popular aircraft in the fleet is the Airbus A320-200, with 178 aircraft and making it the first airline on the list to not feature the 737 in this spot.

China Eastern Airlines 777-300ER
China Eastern is the second biggest airline in the hyper-competitive Chinese market. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

On the Airbus side, China Eastern operates 35 A319s, 227 A320s, 77 A321s, 55 A330s, and eight A350s. With Boeing, the carrier operates 152 737s (including three MAXs), 20 777s, and three 787s currently. The fleet clearly favors Airbus, with nearly 70% of aircraft from the European manufacturer, and has been boosted by China’s continued grounding of the 737 MAX.

SkyWest

While you may have been familiar with all the airlines on the list above, SkyWest might stand out as an odd airline for this list. The St. George-based airline doesn’t operate many aircraft under its own livery but rather operates regional routes on behalf of Alaska, Delta, American, and United. The airline operates a fleet of 564 aircraft, consisting exclusively of regional jets.

SkyWest aircraft Getty
SkyWest operates regional routes for large airlines under familiar names like United Express or American Eagle and generally carries their livery. Photo: Getty Images

SkyWest is the largest operator of regional jets globally, consisting of Bombardier CRJ and Embraer ERJ jets. The carrier currently flies 211 CRJ-100s, 116 CRJ-700s, 44 CRJ-900s, along with 193 ERJ-170s. Next time you’re on a regional jet in the US, check to see if it’s operated by SkyWest!

Ryanair

The only non-American or Chinese airline on this list is Irish low-cost giant Ryanair. The Dublin-based carrier operates 452 aircraft, consisting almost exclusively of the Boeing 737 family (one subsidiary operates the A320).

Ryanair Boeing 737
Ryanair is another exclusive operator of the Boeing 737 and was reportedly influenced by Southwest’s business model. Photo: Getty Images

Ryanair’s fleet is split up among several subsidiaries across Europe, such as Lauda Europe and Ryanair Sun. The carrier operates 423 Boeing 737s, consisting of 422 -800s and one -700, along with 29 Airbus A320s (all flown by Lauda Europe).

FedEx

The only cargo airline to crack the list of largest airline fleets is FedEx. The Memphis-based cargo giant operates a fleet of 458 aircraft, consisting of 284 widebodies, 129 narrowbodies, and 45 turboprops. The airline follows a hub-based model, with one “SuperHub” in Memphis and several small hubs around the world.

FedEx MD-11F
FedEx is the world’s largest cargo airline by fleet size and volume. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

FedEx has a unique fleet of Airbus, Boeing, ATR, and McDonnell Douglas aircraft, some of which were retired years ago by passenger airlines. The carrier currently operates 23 ATR 42s, 22 ATR 72s, 66 A300s, 10 737s, 119 757s, 97 767s, 46 777s, 16 DC-10s, and 59 MD-11s.

Air China

Flag carrier Air China rounds off the list of the largest airline fleet. The Beijing-based carrier operates 440 aircraft, consisting of 123 widebodies and 317 narrowbodies. The most popular plane in the fleet is the Boeing 737-800, of which the airline flies 100.

Air China 777-300ER
Air China is the largest Boeing 747 operator in China and even uses some for VIP transport. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Similar to its competitors, Air China’s fleet also has slightly more Airbus jets in its fleet. The carrier operates 33 A319s, 75 A320s, 71 A321s, 58 A330s, and 13 A350s. On the Boeing side, Air China operates 134 737s, 10 747s (including seven -8Is), 28 777s, and 14 787s.

Which of these airlines have you flown? Which carrier could grow to become the busiest in the future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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