The Boeing 747, or the Queen of the Skies as the type is affectionately known, has become an icon of the aviation industry over the last half a century. Despite being much loved by passengers, the inferior economics of four engines has meant that most remaining passenger operators have bid the type farewell.
These days Frankfurt Airport is your best bet to see Boeing 747s, thanks to the fleet of -400s and -8s that continue to be operated by Lufthansa. While the German flag carrier is now the largest user of the type, it wasn’t from 2010 to 2019. We’ve used schedule data from aviation data experts Cirium to reveal the top ten users of the Boeing 747 for passenger services between January 2010 and Dec 2019.
When you think of Saudia, the Boeing 747 may not be the first aircraft that comes to mind. However, according to data from ch-aviation.com, the Saudi Arabian flag carrier operated 18 passengers 747s during the 2010s decade. The airline operated 747-100s, -300s, and -400s, with all four of the latter model flying until 2016. According to the portal’s data, the airline flew the 747-100 until 2011, with the -300s phased out between 2011 and 2013.
Cirium shows that Saudia was the tenth biggest user of the Boeing 747 for passenger services between 2010 and 2019 with 57,468 scheduled flights. Its top three airports for services with the type were all in Saudi Arabia, where the planes were based, though Cairo saw more services than the Saudi Arabian city of Dammam.
9 Virgin Atlantic
Sir Richard Branson launched Virgin Atlantic with a single Boeing 747-200 named ‘Maiden Voyager’ back in 1984, with the first flight operating from London Gatwick Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport on June 22nd, 1984. Maiden Voyager, registered G-VIRG, left the Virgin Atlantic fleet in 2001, and by 2010, the airline was only operating the Boeing 747-400. The London-based carrier used 13 jumbo jets during the decade, with planes retiring gradually until Virgin Atlantic discontinued the fleet at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Virgin Atlantic flew 13 Boeing 747-400s between the years 2010 and 2019. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying
Virgin Atlantic had flights scheduled to 26 airports throughout the decade, with 59,191 flights planned during the ten years. Unsurprisingly, its London Gatwick Airport base came top of the list with almost 15,000 flights. Orlando came second with around 10,000 flights, surpassing London Heathrow Airport with approximately 7,700 arriving flights.
The Australian flag carrier takes the eighth spot on our list. Like Saudia and Virgin Atlantic, the airline has operated a range of 747 variants, though only the Boeing 747-400 and the 747-400(ER) flew with the kangaroo on its tail during the 2010s. 28 aircraft were part of the Qantas fleet across the decade. Like Virgin Atlantic, the airline pulled the plug on the type ahead of schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the airline’s jumbo jets will live on as an engine testbed for Rolls-Royce.
Qantas was one of the airlines that retired the Boeing 747 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying
From 2010 to 2019, the airline had 62,829 scheduled flights to 27 destinations, including four that only had a single service planned. The top airport was unsurprisingly Sydney, while Los Angeles came in at second-place with almost double the flights that Brisbane in Queensland received. The four destinations with only a single scheduled flight across the decade are,
7 United Airlines
While all of the big three American carriers flew the Queen of the Skies, United Airlines is the only carrier that operated enough flights to make the top ten. The airline operated a fleet of 23 Boeing 747-400s during the decade, with aircraft leaving the fleet between 2010 and 2017. The US carrier operated its final Boeing 747 flight on November 7th, 2017, retiring the fleet long before the impact of the COVID -19 pandemic.
United Airlines’ last passenger 747 flight was on 07/11/07. Photo: Getty Images
According to Cirium’s data, United Airlines had 66,543 flights scheduled with the jumbo jet during the ten years from 2010. United had occasional 747 flights to many destinations, meaning that the type visited 143 cities during the decade. San Francisco was the top city with around 20,500 flights, while Tokyo Narita came second with about 7,000 services ahead of Chicago. Interestingly, Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, United Kingdom both had two scheduled services.
6 China Airlines
China Airlines was still flying passenger Boeing 747 aircraft as recently as a year ago. The airline continues to operate the freight variety, having brought forward the retirement of some aircraft. During the decade in question, the airline had 33 jumbo jets, with 12 of these used to carry passengers. 18 cargo aircraft remain in service. Interestingly, China Airlines operated the final Boeing 747-400 built for passenger use, B-18215.
China Airlines continues to fly cargo Boeing 747s today. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying
The airline had 87,622 scheduled flights across the ten years, according to data from Cirium. Around half of these were from Taipei, where the aircraft were based. Interestingly, the second top destination, Hong Kong, only had around 6,300 flights.
5 Thai Airways
In November 2020, Thai Airways put 32 widebody aircraft for sale, including ten Boeing 747-400s. According to ch-aviation.com, Thai Airways operated 16 passenger Boeing 747s during the relevant years, with eight still listed as belonging to the airline’s fleet.
Thai tried to sell some of its 747s following the arrival of COVID-19. Photo: Getty Images
As was the case with China Airlines, and unsurprisingly, around half of the 89,921 Thai Airways Boeing 747-400 flights last decade flew to the airline’s base in Bangkok. Interestingly, around 8,000 flights with the Queen of the Skies operated between Bangkok and Phuket, a one-hour domestic hop. Today, the airport is an intermediate stop on some long-haul routes, such as the Airbus A350 route from Bangkok to Copenhagen (TG 952).
When you think of the Queen of the Skies, one airline that instantly comes to mind is KLM. While not alone in doing so, KLM famously operated the Boeing 747-400M, an aircraft that could take cargo and passengers on the main deck. As is the case with many other major Boeing 747-400s, the COVID-19 pandemic marked the death of the airline’s fleet. The last Boeing 747 that flew for KLM left Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on March 15th, 2021.
KLM has now retired all of its Boeing 747s. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying
KLM is one of just four airlines to surpass 100,000 scheduled Boeing 747 flights in the 2010s, just managing the feat with 100,673 services. The airline flew the Queen everywhere from Aruba to Washington, with Amsterdam accounting for slightly fewer than half its flights. St. Maarten, a notorious KLM 747 destination, saw 980 such services.
3 Korean Air
Korean Air takes the bronze medal for most passenger 747 operations in the previous decade. The airline had a staggering 65 Boeing 747s during this period, though just 33 of these (roughly half) were passenger aircraft. Notably, the airline is the first in the top ten to operate the newest model of the 747, the -8. As such, the airline is one of the few that continues to fly the type (after all, its oldest 747-8 is just six and a half years old).
Korean Air is one of the few passenger 747-8 customers. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying
Korean Air scheduled the Queen of the Skies for 102,627 flights, flying to cities from Amsterdam to Zurich. Seoul Airport saw around 33,000 services, while Seoul-Gimpo saw roughly 18,000. Jeju saw around 12,000. As was the case with China Airlines, Hong Kong was the top international destination with around 3,700 flights, giving about 370 a year.
Today Lufthansa remains the largest Boeing 747 operator, continuing to fly both the newer -8 and the older -400s, the latter of which will be phased out when Boeing 777-9 deliveries begin. Across the period, Lufthansa operated 49 Boeing 747s, including the 747-400M as was also flown by KLM. Just 22 of these aircraft have been retired since 2010.
Today, Lufthansa is the largest Boeing 747 airline. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying
Cirium reveals that Lufthansa scheduled 62% more flights than Korean Airlines, with a staggering 166,380 passenger services scheduled. As expected, around half of these were to Frankfurt Airport, the airline’s main hub. Interestingly, just four were attributed to the airline’s secondary hub in Munich. The US is a crucial destination for the type, with Chicago, Washington, and New York making up the airline’s three most served international destinations across the decade.
1 British Airways
Flying into the top spot is the British flag carrier, British Airways. The airline has become synonymous with the Queen of the skies, operating the type for around half a century. BA’s love of the 747 started with the 747-100, which was initially delivered to the airline’s predecessor, BOAC. The dream was cut short in 2020, again by COVID-19. Impressively, British Airways operated 52 Boeing 747-400s across the decade, according to data from ch-aviation.com. All of these were the passenger variant.
British Airways operated more flights to Heathrow than Korean Air did across its entire network. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying
British Airways scheduled the Boeing 747-400 on 226,901 services across the decade. The airline operated more services to London (111,397) alone than Korean Air scheduled across its entire network during the same time. The planes flew around the world to destinations ranging from Abuja to Washington. New York was the top destination for the type. As the world’s most profitable route pre-covid, this comes as no surprise. JFK saw around 19,600 services (roughly 1,960 a year or 5.4 a day). The second highest destination, Miami, saw around 7,000 by comparison.
Did any of these airlines surprise you? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!
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