As the decline of the passenger Boeing 747 continues, the type’s place in aviation history is guaranteed. The B747-400 was wildly the most successful variant in recent years, especially with BA, Lufthansa, and China Airlines. But the B747-8 has now become the leading type – for the first time.
The Boeing 747 lost its crown as the world’s most successful widebody aircraft – in terms of total deliveries at least – in 2018, with the twin-engine 777 taking over. The rise of the B777-300ER, with outstanding economics and huge popularity, was mainly responsible for this. The glory days of the 747 have now gone – especially in passenger terms – but its place in aviation history is guaranteed.
All about the B747-400
The B747-400 was by far the most important variant in passenger terms in the past decade. Between 2011-2021, it had over 391 million seats on a scheduled non-stop basis, OAG data reveals – some 90% of the total 747 capacity. That was when things were ‘normal’ and when the capacity of the 747 was needed.
Top-20 B747 operators
In passenger terms, BA was by far the number-one B747 airline in the past decade, with Lufthansa distantly second and Taiwan’s China Airlines third, as shown below. Following a five-hour charter flight to Mount Fuji, China Airlines retired its final -400 from passenger service on March 20th.
- BA: 65 million seats
- Lufthansa: 31.8 million
- China Airlines: 30.4 million
- Korean Air: 25.6 million
- Virgin Atlantic: 22.5 million
- United Airlines: 20.8 million
- Qantas: 19.4 million
- Cathay Pacific: 16.5 million
- Thai Airways: 15.6 million
- Delta Air Lines: 15.3 million
- All Nippon: 15.1 million
- Transaero: 9.2 million
- Corsair: 8.5 million
- KLM: 8.3 million
- EVA Air: 6.5 million
- El Al: 6.4 million
- Saudia: 5.4 million
- Asiana: 5.3 million
- Philippine Airlines: 5.2 million
- Air India: 5.1 million
British Airways used its B747-400s to 22 countries in this decade. The US was all-important, with nearly six in ten seats (58%). Next were South Africa, Canada, India, and Nigeria, but all were far less important.
Lufthansa, meanwhile, used its -400s to 19 countries. The US was again top, but this time followed by India. On a city basis, New York was number-one, with Mumbai and Denver close behind. Denver, and Newark, benefited from the Star Alliance relationship with United Airlines. Egypt was least-served, with the B747-400 used on Frankfurt-Cairo until 2011.
The rise of the twin
The decline of the 747 and all four-engine aircraft, including the A340 and A380, was inevitable, even before extra motivation came from coronavirus. After all, widebody twin-engine aircraft have many benefits beyond having fewer engines, although this is important too: a good amount of an aircraft’s overall acquisition cost comes from the powerplants.
Twins are normally lighter than quads for around the same payload, with the lower weight meaning lower navigation charges, landing charges, fuel burn, and carbon charges. This brings important operating cost savings, significant during recessions, other crises, and times of high fuel prices. Twins normally have performance advantages too.
As always, it’s important to consider an aircraft’s ownership costs, with these possibly overriding benefits. For this reason, airlines such as Allegiant use older narrowbodies, and it explains the popularity among airlines, such as Delta and BA, of reconditioning older aircraft.