There are often big differences between airline fleets – and regular changes. Some airlines prefer the efficiencies of operating just one aircraft type, or manufacturer. And others have a diverse, mixed fleet – either through choice or perhaps history and acquisition. In this article, we take a look at some of the main airlines that operate a widebody only fleet.
Asia is a great place to be if you prefer widebody aircraft, with a number of main airlines there having all widebody fleets. There is also Emirates in the Middle East and a couple of options in Europe, but none in the US. This is not necessarily a complete list – if you know of others let us know in the comments!
A widebody, to be clear, is any aircraft wide enough to offer two passenger aisles. The widebody era began in 1970 with the introduction of the Boeing 747. This was ‘stretched’ wider as the best way to accommodate more passengers (taller / extra decks at the time was considered hard for meeting emergency evacuation regulations). The 747 was soon followed by the McDonnell Douglas DC10 and the Lockheed L-1011. The first twinjet widebody was the Airbus A330, introduced in 1974.
With the 747 on its way out, the most common widebody aircraft today are the Boeing 767, 777 and 787. And from Airbus, the A340, A350, and A380.
Whilst they are often thought of as long haul aircraft, this is not always the case. Yes, the larger capacity and range they offer suits long haul flying, but many airlines make use of the extra capacity (passengers and freight) on shorter routes.
Emirates – the largest widebody fleet
Emirates operates the largest fleet of all widebody aircraft, from its Dubai base (fleet data from Wikipedia). It currently operates 257 aircraft – all Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 (200 and 300 variants). Emirates has made the largest commitment of any airline to the A380, with 113 in service and 10 more on order.
Singapore Airlines is one of several Asian based airlines operating all widebody aircraft. It has a diverse fleet of 137 aircraft (with 78 more on order currently). It operates the Airbus A330, A350, A380 and the Boeing 747 (Cargo only), 777 and 787.
Much of this fleet is being replaced by the Airbus A350, with 42 in service and a further 25 on order. Seven of these are the A350-900ULR, which has allowed Singapore Airlines to re-start direct services between Singapore and New York and Los Angeles.
Coming in slightly behind Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific operates a fleet of 133 widebody aircraft. The most numerous are the Boeing 777-300, followed by the Airbus A350 and A330. The airline offers a variety of configurations and seat types depending on the range, and is well known for regularly swapping regional aircraft types!
Cathay Pacific also has a subsidiary, Cathay Dragon (formerly Dragonair). It operates both widebody and narrowbody aircraft on routes between Hong Kong and China, South and Southeast Asia.
And to finish off the Asian flag carriers – Thai Airways also operates an all widebody fleet. It currently has 82 aircraft, with the A330 and Boeing 777-300 / 300ER forming the largest part. Thai Airways also operates the Airbus A350, A380 and still flies nine Boeing 747 aircraft.
It does not currently have any future orders, after it canceled an order for 38 new aircraft in October 2019. There is also discussion of it bringing six A340-600 back into service (these have been parked at Pattaya airport since 2015).
Like Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways also operates a subsidiary airline, Thai Smile. It flies domestic and short-haul routes using a fleet of all Airbus A320 aircraft.
Air Asia X
Again in Asia, low-cost airline Air Asia operates a long haul fleet (as Air Asia X) of just widebody aircraft. It operates 24 Airbus A330-300 and one A330-900neo. There are a further 77 A330-900 on order. It has also placed an order for 30 Airbus A321XLR aircraft, although the introduction timing is not clear yet. Switching to these narrowbody aircraft for shorter routes, the airline claims, will allow greater frequency flights with cost savings of up to 16 percent.
Air Tahiti Nui
Based in Tahiti, French Polynesia, Air Tahiti Nui is a French Airline operating long haul flights to Japan, New Zealand, France, and the US.
UK based airline Virgin Atlantic operates a fleet of 45 widebody aircraft, mixed Boeing and Airbus. The largest fleet is with the Boeing 787-9 (19 aircraft). It still operates the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A340, though these are both being phased out and replaced with the Airbus A350-1000 (Virgin has eight more on order).
It currently only serves long haul destinations but has expressed interest in expansion to operate domestic and European flights if extra capacity is made available in London.
Air Belgium is a small European airline, based at Brussels South Charleroi airport. It operates a fleet of four Airbus A340, Two of these are wet-leased to British Airways and LOT Polish Airlines, as the airline struggles with its own flights.
Air Belgium was formed in 2016 with the intention to serve Hong Kong and China. This never worked out – we take a look at why in this article – and will instead soon start services to the French Antilles.