What Happened To United Airlines’ Boeing 747 Aircraft?


As Boeing faces the end of its 747 production and airlines around the world take to retiring their 747 models, United Airlines is one of the air carriers ahead of the game. Its last 747 flight happened over two years ago. But what happened to the aircraft that made up its fleet?

United Airlines has a small but substantial 747 fleet. Photo: Bill Abbott via Flickr

A prominent yet small fleet

Compared to United Airlines’ distinguished Boeing 737 fleet and extensive Airbus A320 fleet, the airline’s 747 fleet was comparatively small. In total, the airline once owned 90 aircraft at various points in its history in four variants, according to Air Fleets. Most popular was the Boeing 747-400, however, United Airlines also had the -100, -200, and SP.

However, the airline no longer operates any of these models and hasn’t done so since 2017. According to Air Fleets, the majority of the aircraft are stored but some 35 have gone onto new airlines.

First aircraft in the ’70s

United Airlines began its relationship with the 747 nearly 50 years ago. It acquired the first aircraft in 1970 and ended the year with a total of nine 747-100 in its fleet. Most of these aircraft were moved to other airlines. Between 1985 and 1986 United sent five aircraft to Pan Am. As well as this Pan Am had another deal with United in which it leased an aircraft registered N724PA. Pan Am kept this aircraft for just over a year before returning it to the airline in 1991.

Pan Am leased this aircraft to United Airlines. Photo: Kambui via Wikimedia Commons

But the tale of Pan Am was not a happy one. The American commercial airline collapsed in 1991. As a result, these aircraft were the only ones to serve with Pan Am. For the rest of the 747 aircraft from 1970, they were stored with United Airlines and have since been scrapped.

Many of the other 747 aircraft that United Airlines acquired in the 1970s were stored with the airline. The airline took delivery of a further nine aircraft between 1971 and 1973, still the 747-122 model. All of the aircraft have since been scrapped.


A momentary pause

But before United advanced its Boeing 747 fleet, it took a pause. It wasn’t until 1986 that new orders of the aircraft returned again. In 1986, United Airlines received 11 Boeing 747 aircraft and continued to expand its fleet in the ensuing years.

Before 1990 hit, it had another 11 aircraft making total 747 deliveries in the ’80s number 22 aircraft. But in these years, the type of 747 United acquired began to change. Whilst it still had an affinity towards the Boeing 747-100 variant, it also took delivery of three -400 variants, 11 SPs, and two -200s.

Nine of these aircraft went on to other airlines between 1992 and 2006, including Northwest Airlines, Tajik Air, and Qatar Amari Flight. Of those which were stored with the airline, only one continues to bear this status. It is registered N147UA and initially came from Pan Am but is registered by Air Fleets to be stored with United Airlines.


The 747-400

The 1990s was a big decade in terms of receiving deliveries of 747 for United. In total, it took 48 of them over this period between 1990 and 1999. Most of these aircraft were 747-400 variants although United was still dabbling with the 747-200. It took five -200 models leaving 43 -400 variants.

The 1990s saw many 747 deliveries including N180UA in 1991. Photo: Curimedia via Wikimedia Commons

19 of these aircraft were then passed onto other airlines including Corsair, Atlas Air, and Blue Sky. In fact, the last of these 1990 aircraft to be removed from United Airlines’ care was N119UA which is still an active member of Atlas Air’s fleet. It left United in 2019, well after the final commercial flight on a United 747 had occurred.

Of the rest of the fleet, 17 are reported to still be stored with United Airlines whilst the remaining 12 have been scrapped.

By the end of the ’90s, United had already built a fairly robust fleet. It only took one more unique delivery of a 747 in 2000. This was a 747-400 registered N128UA which flew with the airline and was stored in 2017. It is now an active aircraft in Max Air’s fleet. The Nigerian airline has since named the aircraft Alhaji Dahiru Barau Mangal.

What do you remember of United Airlines’ 747 fleet? Let us know in the comments!