The Worst Selling Passenger Planes Of All Time

The aviation industry has grown enormously over the years, leading air travel to become accessible to more people than ever. This has seen mass-production of aircraft hit new heights, with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families each having around 10,000 production examples to date. However, not all aircraft can enjoy such commercial success. Let’s take a look at some of the designs at the other end of the spectrum, with strikingly low sales.

The Worst Selling Passenger Planes Of All Time
The 767-400ER is one of Boeing’s lowest-selling widebodies. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Boeing’s lowest sellers

Manufacturing juggernaut Boeing has developed a reputation that has allowed most of its products to generate strong sales figures. However, while its aircraft families as a whole have been commercially successful, certain variants have sold conspicuously fewer examples than their classmates. For example, it received just 38 orders for the original 737-100.

Staying with narrowbodies, Boeing produced a single 757-200M ‘Combi’ for Nepal Airlines, and 55 stretched 757-300s. Similarly, Qantas was the only customer for the 747-400ER sub-variant, receiving all six examples. Other low-selling widebodies include the short-fuselage 747SP (45 examples), the 747-300 (81 examples), and the 767-400ER (38 examples).

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What about Airbus?

It is a similar story at Airbus, which, again, has produced plenty of big sellers when it comes to aircraft families as a whole, albeit with certain low-selling variants. Take the A318, for example, which sold just 80 units, compared to nearly 1,500 for the larger A319.

British Airways, Airbus A318, Retirement
The A318 could not match the sales of its A320 family counterparts. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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Looking at the next generation of Airbus narrowbodies, you can see a similar trend. The A319neo is the smallest A320 family member being offered in the ‘neo’ (New Engine Option) range, and has been comprehensively outranked by its larger counterparts. It has generated just 73 orders, compared to 3,852 and 3,473 for the A320neo and A321neo.

With regards to Airbus’s widebodies, the A340 quadjet family sold poorly compared to the twin-engine A330 (377 deliveries vs 1,514). However, within this family, two variants stand out as being particularly low sellers. These are the A340-200 (28 aircraft) and -500 (32). Airbus also produced just seven specialist A350-900ULR aircraft for Singapore Airlines. Like the Boeing 757-200M, Airbus produced a single A310C Combi, which flew for Martinair and FedEx.

Other commercially unsuccessful designs

Of course, the world of commercial aircraft consists of far more than designs from the Airbus-Boeing duopoly. As such, it is worth examining low sellers from other manufactures, particularly as several saw even more limited production. Staying in Europe, Dassault produced 12 examples of its Mercure jetliner (which first flew on this day in 1971).

Air Inter Dassault Mercure
Air Inter was the Dassault Mercure’s only operator. Photo: Udo K. Haafke via Wikimedia Commons

Supersonic transport was also an area characterized by low sales. Despite 18 airlines having around 100 options for Concorde, just 14 production examples left the factory, bound for Air France and BA. Similarly, Tupolev produced just 16 supersonic Tu-144s. Tupolev has also seen rather slow sales for its Tu-204. Despite production starting in 1990, an average of less than three a year have left the factory, with just 86 built in 31 years to date.

When it comes to the UK, Vickers has had several low-selling designs. For example, its Vanguard turboprop saw just 43 production examples (flown by British European Airways and Trans-Canada Airlines) and one prototype take to the skies. Shortly after, it launched the VC10, of which it produced just 54 examples between 1962 and 1970.

Air France Concorde
Air France and BA each operated just seven Concordes. Photo: Getty Images

Across the Atlantic, the Convair 990 ‘Coronado’ struggled to generate decent sales. Although it was faster than the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8, airlines favored these aircraft for their greater capacity. As such, Convair produced just 37 Coronados between 1961 and 1961. The aircraft was a stretch of the Convair 880, which itself only sold 65 units.