What Happened To KLM’s Boeing 747s?

Dutch flag carrier and Skyteam member KLM was one of many airlines to have its long-haul operations revolutionized by the iconic Boeing 747 family. All in all, the Amsterdam-based airline flew variants of the ‘Queen of the skies’ for nearly half a century. Let’s take a look at its relationship with the 747, and where these aircraft ended up afterward.

KLM Boeing 747-406(M) PH-BFY
KLM briefly reactivated its 747s to fly cargo last year. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The 747-200

KLM kicked off its relationship with Boeing’s iconic four-engine widebody by flying the 747-200 version. According to data from ch-aviation.com, KLM flew a total of 17 of these aircraft, which were split among three sub-variants themselves. The majority (10 examples) belonged to the standard passenger-carrying -200, with another five being -200M Combis.

Meanwhile, ch-aviation’s database lists the final two examples as having been dedicated freighters. According to Planespotters.net, both of these aircraft had a stretched upper deck, as did the five ‘Combi’ aircraft, and three of the standard 747-200s.

KLM received its various 747-200 sub-variants over a 27-year period, spanning from 1971 to 1998. Apart from PH-BUF, which was destroyed in the 1977 Tenerife disaster, they left the airline between 1989 and 2004. Their subsequent operators included Air Atlanta Icelandic, America West Airlines, Corsair, Martinair Holland, Phuket Air, and Southern Air.

KLM Boeing 747-200
KLM received its first 747-200s in 1971. Photo: clipperarctic via Wikimedia Commons

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The 747-300

The 747-300 is an often-forgotten variant of Boeing’s legendary jumbo jet. Boeing produced just 81 examples, as it was quickly superseded by the 747-400, which boasted winglets, an increased range, and a two-person glass cockpit. Nonetheless, KLM did still operate three examples, all of which were the -300M Combi version.

Combi aircraft carry both passengers and cargo, with a greater emphasis on the latter than standard configurations. Specifically, they tend to make use of the rearmost cabin section as an additional area for freight, rather than exclusively storing it below deck.

As far as KLM’s three 747-300Ms were concerned, they joined the airline in 1983, 1984, and 1986. They were named after Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, and Sir Frank Whittle. These aircraft left KLM after around two decades in 2003 (one) and 2004 (two). Their immediate destinations were Phuket Air, Orient Thai Airlines, and Surinam Airways.

KLM Boeing 747-300M
KLM’s three 747-300Ms had an increased cargo capacity. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

The 747-400

KLM received its first 747-400 six years after its first example of the -300, exemplifying the speed with which it superseded its predecessor. It flew examples of this variant for 31 years, with the curtain finally coming down on its relationship with the jumbo last year. Initially, the onset of COVID-19 prompted KLM to retire its remaining 747-400s in March 2020.

This came less than six years after its first -400s (including, once again, examples of the ‘M’ Combi sub-variant) left KLM for scrapping. However, as it turned out, this was not the end of the story. While their surplus passenger capacity was no longer needed owing to the large and sudden drop-off in passenger demand, cargo had become a key market.

KLM Retired Boeing 747-406
The end of the line… Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

With freight having taken on increased significance, the Dutch flag carrier elected the following month to reactivate three of its 747-400Ms. These continued to fly cargo for KLM for another six months, eventually retiring for good in October 2020. They left Amsterdam for storage, with the last doing so in March. This plane soon found a new operator.

Indeed, it recently joined Bermuda’s Longtail Aviation. The other two are stored in Tel Aviv and Kansas City. This is the case for many ex-KLM 747s, whose days are numbered, with scrapping potentially on the horizon. Despite the premature end, the 747 certainly helped shaped KLM’s long-haul operations in its 49-year tenure at the Dutch flag carrier.

Did you ever fly on any of KLM’s 747s? Do you have a particular favorite variant? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!