Alongside Airbus, Boeing is the world’s leading supplier of commercial passenger aircraft. Over the course of its existence, Boeing has delivered more than 15,000 aircraft and has secured over 20,000 orders for its aircraft. But which planes were the less well-received types and have become Boeing’s worst-selling jets?
For clarity, we’ll only be looking at jet aircraft here, and only at those sold for commercial passenger use. We’ll also not include the DC-8, -9 and -10 or the McDonnell Douglas MD aircraft, as they were not Boeing planes, although the companies did merge later on.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
The worst-selling family
Taking a headline approach to this analysis, let’s contemplate which family of aircraft has sold the least for Boeing. According to the manufacturer’s sales figures, the 717 sold the least of any aircraft designation, with just 205 aircraft sold.
However, this is slightly misleading as the aircraft was designed by rival manufacturer McDonell Douglas. It was to be the MD-95, a derivative of the DC-9 family, but was rebranded to the Boeing 717 when the companies merged in 1997.
For pure Boeing aircraft, the lowest sales figures were acquired by the 707/720 family of planes, with 1,016 aircraft sold. This was Boeing’s first foray into jetliner aircraft, developed from the 367-80 or ‘Dash 80’ back in the 1950s. Several variants were brought to market, but the low level of passenger traffic in those days led to low sales figures, although for the time it was a very successful plane.
The rarest narrowbody – the 737-100
The very first member of what was to become Boeing’s best-selling family of aircraft was the 737-100. This plane entered service with Lufthansa in 1968, with the German airline ordering a total of 30 of the type. Five went to Malaysia-Singapore Airlines, and two to Avianca. One further 737-100 was built, which went to NASA following its stint as Boeing’s prototype.
That makes for a total of 38 orders for the type, a number that has been significantly eclipsed by most other variants of the family. The launch of the larger 737-200 just months after the -100 likely contributed to these low sales.
The NASA plane was the last to leave service, taking its final flight in September 2003. It is now on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
The worst-selling Queens
The 747 is widely recognized as the plane that changed air travel forever. Its introduction increased capacity, lowered fares and made long trips possible for the first time ever. As a family, it sold 1,763 across all variants, including cargo, but one member of this family did not have such a good sales record.
The Boeing 747SP (special performance) was a specially configured shortened version of the widebody aircraft. It came about following a request from Pan Am for a plane that could carry a full payload on its longest route without a stopover – New York to Tehran. Only 45 were ever built, but five remain in service today.
Two are operated by Pratt & Whitney as testbeds, one as VIP transport for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and one on behalf of the government of Oman. However, our favorite SP has to be the one owned by NASA/DLR which is the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA.
But the SP was not the only low selling model. The original 747-100 was developed, in response to requests from Japanese airlines, into a special short range model, the SR. Seven -100SRs were built between 1973 and 1975. Following this was the -100BSR, a 747SR variant with increased takeoff weight capability. 20 were sold to Japan Airlines and ANA.
The 747-300 sold just 81 units, a far cry from the hundreds sold of its sister models. However, this was not a mark of a poor aircraft – quite the opposite, in fact. The 747-300 was rapidly superseded by the more advanced -400 just two years after its introduction, leading a number of airlines to switch their orders to the newer model.
Just two remain in service to this day. One is with TransAviaExport Airlines, a specialist cargo carrier from Belarus, which has EW-465TQ as its one remaining aircraft. The other is owned by Mahan Air from Iran. However, it has been parked up for several months and may not return to service.
The widebody outlier
On the whole, Boeing’s widebody families have sold well across all variants. However, one widebody has been less well-received – the little known Boeing 767-400ER. The 767 family, as a whole, sold 1,464 aircraft to date. However, this stretched variant sold just 38 units, making it Boeing’s worst-selling widebody aircraft.
The 767-400ER was developed from a double stretch of the original -200 variant. In total, it stretched the fuselage by 21.1 feet (6.43 meters) over the 767-300 and had an increased wingspan, 14.3 feet (4.36m) wider than its predecessor. Other updates included an improved cockpit, reworked landing gear and an interior that Boeing called ‘Signature’, derived from the 777.
Despite being an ‘extended range’ aircraft, it didn’t have any additional fuel capacity over its smaller 767-300ER sister. This meant its range was limited to 5,625 nautical miles, around 350 NM shorter than the 767-300ER. It wasn’t popular with airlines and sold just 38 units.
The biggest operator was Delta Air Lines, which had a fleet of 21 of the type. United Airlines acquired 16 when it merged with Continental. No 767-400 was ever built, and the lack of success of the -400ER led Boeing to cancel its spin-off project for the 767-400ERX in 2001, pushing airlines instead towards the 777 family.
Does our list of Boeing’s worst-selling aircraft surprise you? Let us know in the comments.