The Top Boeing 747 Operators Of The Past Decade

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 Top Boeing 747 Operators Of The Past Decade
British Airways, Lufthansa, China Airlines, Korean Air, and Virgin Atlantic were the top five passengers B747-400s in the past decade. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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.

Qantas 744
Qantas retired the B747-400 in July 2020. Photo: Getty Images.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

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.

747 development
Lufthansa received its first 747-8 in 2012, with this model only having more capacity than the -400 in 2021. This was helped by large numbers of -400 retirements, including at British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, and Virgin Atlantic. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer

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.

  1. BA: 65 million seats
  2. Lufthansa: 31.8 million
  3. China Airlines: 30.4 million
  4. Korean Air: 25.6 million
  5. Virgin Atlantic: 22.5 million
  6. United Airlines: 20.8 million
  7. Qantas: 19.4 million
  8. Cathay Pacific: 16.5 million
  9. Thai Airways: 15.6 million
  10. Delta Air Lines: 15.3 million
  11. All Nippon: 15.1 million
  12. Transaero: 9.2 million
  13. Corsair: 8.5 million
  14. KLM: 8.3 million
  15. EVA Air: 6.5 million
  16. El Al: 6.4 million
  17. Saudia: 5.4 million
  18. Asiana: 5.3 million
  19. Philippine Airlines: 5.2 million
  20. Air India: 5.1 million
The Top Boeing 747 Operators Of The Past Decade
Virgin Atlantic was the fifth-largest user of the passenger -400 since 2011. Its top route for the aircraft was London Gatwick to Orlando, with Manchester to Orlando second. Photo: Getty Images.

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.

The Top Boeing 747 Operators Of The Past Decade
United retired the B747 in 2017 to focus on twins, including the B787-9, as shown here. Four-engine aircraft have become more problematic to finance because of their falling residual value, clearly demonstrated during coronavirus. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

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.