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The Evolution of the Boeing 747 Fleet: 1966–2023

Cover image: Masakatsu Ukon


Tuesday, 31st January 2022 marks a pivotal moment in aviation history, with the delivery of the 1,574th and final Boeing 747 to roll off the production line. The aircraft, registered N863GT, is a 747-8F series aircraft set to be delivered to Atlas Air.


To understand more about this unique aircraft, we chart the course of the 747 family and highlight some of the key moments from the IBA team.

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Tracking the 747 fleet from 1966 to 2023

Using fleet data from IBA Insight, we can see 346 active Boeing 747 aircraft still in service worldwide, as of 31st January 2023. Aside from Atlas Air, other prolific operators of the 747 and their fleet numbers include UPS (41) Cargolux (29) and Lufthansa (27).


The lifecycle of the aircraft has broadly followed a typical profile, exhibiting a gradual decrease in active aircraft, and an increase in retirements from the late 1990s onwards. The 747 fleet was notably hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with British Airways opting to retire its entire 747-400 fleet in 2020.

The oldest active 747 aircraft today

Unsurprisingly, the oldest active 747s in the skies today are mostly military and government aircraft. IBA Insight reveals that the oldest of these is a Boeing 747-200 E4B SN 20682, operated by the United States Air Force (USAF). The aircraft was built on 13th June 1973 and is 49.81 years old at the time of writing.


The oldest passenger aircraft in commercial operation is a Boeing 747-400 EP-MEE (SN 24383) operated by Mahan Air, a privately owned Iranian airline. IBA Insight’s flight analysis data shows that this aircraft frequently makes trips between Tehran and Moscow, and last flew on 30th January 2023. It should be noted however that the U.S. Government considers the operator to be a de facto part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Memories from the IBA team

So, with such longevity in aviation, it comes as no surprise that the ‘Queen of the Skies’, as the 747 is fondly known is an aircraft fondly remembered by pilots, passengers, and enthusiasts. The IBA team is no exception to this, and so in the spirit of this milestone, we’ve asked for some recollections from across our organisation.


“I was lucky enough to live near Heathrow and saw the first ‘Jumbo’ land there from my school playground. Pan Am flight 002 touched down at LHR at 14:14 GMT on January 22nd, 1970) As an impressionable 10-year-old, I was fascinated. The next stop was to the local model shop to buy the Airfix kit! According to my Junior Jet Club book, my first flight on a 747 was to Boston G-AWNC in 1972. It’s hardly surprising I joined British Airways in 1976 and went on to work on the aircraft.”

Phil Seymour, President


“I flew Honolulu to Seattle on a Northwest Orient 747-200 in October 1990. The aircraft had arrived in Honolulu 23 hours late from Seoul. I was the only passenger scheduled to join the flight who hadn't elected to be moved to another flight. We departed Honolulu with just 13 passengers on board, and a total of 17 crew! One of those other passengers was an NTSB investigator escorting the failed cargo door from United Airlines flight 811 – a 747 incident that occurred just over a year earlier. The remains of the door itself were below me in the aircraft’s hold.”

Sean Meagher, Head of Data


Boeing 747-100 N736PA ‘Clipper Young America’ operated by Pan Am was the first 747 to land at Heathrow Airport. Later renamed ‘Clipper Victor’, the aircraft was sadly destroyed in the Tenerife airport disaster in 1977. Source: Aero Icarus, Wikimedia Commons


“I flew on many a British Airways -136, -236 and -436 aircraft to and from Nairobi from 1987 to 1993. I remember that the Rolls-powered -236 and -436 aircraft had little problem climbing out of a hot and high Nairobi at 5,500ft ASL, but the Pratt-powered -136 often struggled on heavy departures after 10:30 AM.”

– Jonathan McDonald, Manager – Classic & Cargo Aircraft



“My first long-haul trip was on a South African Airways Jumbo to Cape Town via Johannesburg back in 1996. I grew up in the village of Stanwell Moor, right at the end of Heathrow’s runway 27, where low-flying Jumbos were a common sight. To say it inspired my career choices would be an understatement."

– Chris Lomas, Digital Content Manager


Wait for it…

Look out for IBA’s Phil Seymour in this vintage documentary ‘A Tale of Two Jumbos’, originally produced by British Airways. You can recognise Phil from his “Rod Stewart-style mullet” at 17 minutes 42 seconds!


Looking to take your fleet analysis to new heights? With IBA Insight, get aircraft fleet analysis specially designed to serve the aviation finance community. 


IBA Insight is your go-to platform for aviation data and intelligence, bringing together IBA’s vast fleet, flight, values, trends, and liquidity data into one cutting-edge, easy-to-use platform. Our fleet data combines 65,000 daily updates with over 65 years of independent aviation data on every commercial aircraft and engine type, fuelling the most accurate and comprehensive fleet data in the global market.


Learn more about IBA Insight


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