These Airlines Operate The Largest Boeing 747 Fleets

The world’s first jumbo jet – the Queen of the Skies – has enjoyed a 50-year reign, but is slowly being phased out of some airlines’ fleets. However, many airlines still operate large numbers of the type; here are the ones who love the Boeing 747 the most.

The Boeing 747 is still a popular aircraft. Photo: Lufthansa

Boeing’s 747 completely revamped air travel when it hit the market in 1969, being bigger, more high-tech and more reliable than anything that had come before it. Despite speculation that the manufacturing of the latest 747-8 will soon cease, ending Boeing’s 747 production, many airlines still cling tightly to it.

British Airways

Earlier this year, British Airways placed an order of 14 Boeing 777-9 to replace its 747 aircraft. Though the plan is to slowly phase out the 747, British Airways is still the leading commercial operator of the model.

According to its website, it has 34 in its fleet currently, favoring the -400 series for its “high reliability” and the fact that it makes use of “major aerodynamic improvements” in order to operate most efficiently.

According to Air Fleets, the airline received its first of the active fleet in 1993. It is the only airline to have owned the aircraft which is registered G-BNLY and internally named City of Swansea. But why is British Airways looking to replace an aircraft it seems to love so much?

British Airways celebrated its 747 at the Royal International Air Tattoo. Photo: British Airways

Well, the 747 can only take the airline so far. Though the model has built on the successes and failures of its predecessors, Boeing is now making even more sophisticated models, such as the 777X. But, British Airways is also looking at other manufacturers to develop its fleet.

On 5th August this year, BA’s first inaugural flight was taken to Madrid from London Heathrow on its brand-new A350-1000, which the airline had been waiting six years for. The long waits for aircraft deliveries are the reason that British Airways has kept its 747s operating, but when the new aircraft arrive it’s likely to go ahead with the full retirement plans.


German airline, Lufthansa, is the second-largest commercial operator of the Boeing 747. It has 32 in its fleet of 313 aircraft and, unlike British Airways, predominantly uses the 747-8 model. In fact, it is the world’s largest operator of the model and was the first to receive the aircraft back in 2012.

Lufthansa’s first 747-8. Photo: Benedikt Lang via Flickr

It flies 19 of the 747-8 Intercontinental in a 4-class configuration, offering first class, business, premium and economy. It’s not looking to phase out its 747-8 aircraft any time soon, but the same can’t be said for its -400s.

It flies 13 -400s in a 3-class configuration, having received the first back in 1996. It continued to receive orders of this model all the way until 2002. But with 777Xs on order as the European launch customer, the airline is looking to phase out the -400s to make way for newer technologies that will make its fleet more efficient.

Atlas Air

Whilst also being a commercial airline, that’s not how Atlas Air is best known. It has the world’s largest fleet of 747s, but they’re mainly freighter versions. It trumps British Airways and Lufthansa by having 39 of the aircraft, 35 of which are used for air cargo.

There are just four 747-400 passenger aircraft that belong to Atlas Air, since it prefers the -400F of which it owns 25. According to Boeing, at the time of production, the freighter version of the -400 was prized because it could carry “twice as much cargo, twice as far, as the competitor’s leading freighter.”

But now Atlas Air has invested in even newer freighter technology, with 10 747-8F. It received its first in May 2012, according to Air Fleets.

One of Atlas Air’s 747. Photo: Chuks Spotting via Flickr

Boeing claims that its 747-8F is the world’s most efficient freighter with a spec that ensures improved turnaround times, new cargo handling systems and “the lowest tonne-kilometer cost of any large freighter.”

And having the latest technology on-board bodes well since Boeing forecasts that in the next 20 years, air freight will still be delivering more than half the world’s air cargo.

Other notable operators

On the freighter side, there are various other airlines that use Boeing’s 747 model. Cargolux and Cathay Pacific Cargo are also large operators of the -400F and -8F models, with 26 and 20 aircraft in their fleets respectively.

Cargolux was one of the first airlines to purchase the 8F model alongside Nippon Cargo Airlines, the latter of which only ever went on to receive eight aircraft.

Of the commercial airlines, Korean Air is also a primary user of the 747 with 23 aircraft in a mixture of -400 and -8 passenger and freighter aircraft.

Are you a 747 fanatic? What are your thoughts on retirement plans for the 747? Let us know below!