Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is the upper limit of weight that an aircraft is allowed to take off at to be deemed airworthy. As aviation technology has become increasingly sophisticated over the decades, new aircraft have been designed to test the limits of engineering. We explore the passenger aircraft with the greatest MTOW.
Airbus A380 – 1,268,000 lb / 575,155 kg
It was the biggest ever passenger jet envisioned during the initial design phase in the 1980s, and to this day reigns as the largest passenger aircraft in the world. The ‘superjumbo’ Airbus A380 has a typical passenger capacity of 550, although its maximum capacity limit is 853.
The aircraft has an MTOW of 1,268,000 lb / 575,155 kg, putting it streets ahead of the competition. Despite plenty of success stories, the A380 is considered a commercial failure due to poor efficiency and market changes, with airlines looking to two-engine alternatives.
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Boeing 747-8 – 975,000 lb / 443,613 kg
The Boeing 747-8 is the largest variant of the 747-family introduced in 2012. The first 747 model, put into service in the 1970s, was dubbed the ‘Queen of the Skies’ as the largest commercial aircraft of its day. The passenger variant of the 747-8 is the 747-8I, and the freighter variant is the 747-8F.
The 747-8I has a considerable MTOW of 975,000 lb / 443,613 kg, making it the heaviest aircraft built in the United States. The planes use raked wingtips, which significantly improve their fuel efficiency. Despite its many impressive features, the 747-8I underperformed in the market, with Boeing receiving a meager 47 orders before discontinuing production.
Boeing 747-400ER – 910,000 lb / 412,770 kg
Following closely behind the 747-8 is the 747-400ER (Extended Range), built specifically for Qantas. The Australian carrier ordered six planes and ultimately was the only airline to order the 747-400ER variant. The first planes were delivered in 2002 and served Qantas well before their retirement this year.
With an additional fuel tank added to the cargo hold and other structural modifications, the 747-400ER flew with an MTOW of 910,000 lb / 412,770 kg. Qantas announced last year that it would retire all of its 747-family aircraft. Other variants of the 747-family, including the regular 747-400, the 747-300, and the 747-200, are not far behind the 747-400ER in their MTOW.
Airbus A340-500 – 820,000 lb / 371,950 kg
The Airbus A340-500 had the longest range of any commercial aircraft at the time of its introduction in 2003 at 8650NM. Airbus received 380 orders for its A340-family aircraft, with the A340-500 marketed as the ultra-long-haul variant.
The aircraft has an MTOW of 820,000 lb / 371,950 kg, a small improvement on the longer A340-600 variant. The plane ultimately proved unpopular due to poor efficiency, with just two A340-500s in operation today.
Will there be larger planes developed?
Even before the COVID crisis swept across the globe, airlines were beginning to shun mammoth aircraft in favor of more efficient planes. Leading planemakers, including Boeing and Airbus, are focusing on smaller designs that favor higher frequency and fuel efficiency. While Chinese manufacturer COMAC is working on a twin-engine plane, the C939, that could seat around 400 passengers, there’s nothing on the horizon that looks to threaten the A380 in terms of size and weight.
Do you prefer the experience of flying on jumbo planes like the A380?