Japanese Jumbos: A Look At JAL’s Extensive Former 747 Fleet

Japanese Jumbos: A Look At JAL’s Extensive Former 747 Fleet

Earlier this year, Simple Flying took a look at which airlines have operated the most aircraft from Boeing’s iconic 747 family. Japan Airlines (JAL) came out on top, having operated 108 passenger-carrying examples of the jumbo jet. These aircraft were spread across several variants of the world’s first widebody – let’s take a look at which ones JAL flew.

Japan Airlines Boeing 747 Getty
JAL has flown more than 100 passenger-carrying 747s over the years. Photo: Getty Images

The 747-100

According to data from ATDB.aero, 19 of JAL’s 108 passenger-carrying Boeing 747s were examples of the original 747-100 variant. Of these, seven were from the standard -100 series, with the other 12 belonging to the -100SR and -100BSR sub-variants.

These short-range versions were ideally suited to high-demand domestic hops, and two of them even featured a stretched upper deck to add further capacity. They arrived between 1980 and 1986, in contrast to the standard -100s that all joined JAL in the 1970s.

The 747-100 series as a whole served JAL well, and these aircraft eventually began to leave the Japanese flag carrier in the early 1990s. In 2006, the airline’s pair of stretched upper deck -100BSRs left for Orient Thai Airlines, bringing the type’s story at JAL to an end.

Japan Airlines Boeing 747-100
JAL’s 747-100s served the airline into the 21st century. Photo: Amayagan via Wikimedia Commons

The 747-200

As far as the 747-200 variant was concerned, JAL operated this fairly extensively for both passenger and cargo purposes. 14 747-200Fs served the Japanese flag carrier, although our focus here is the airline’s 22 passenger-configured 747-200B aircraft.

The -200B was the basic passenger version of this particular variant. It offered operators increased fuel capacity and better engines than the -100 that had preceded it. JAL received these 22 aircraft over a 12-year spell that spanned from 1971 to 1983.

Many of these aircraft enjoyed extensive careers at the Japanese flag carrier, with some lasting close to three decades! The final examples left the airline in 2007. One notably short career was that of JA8109, which was the subject of a hijacking in 1973. The aircraft flew to Benghazi, Libya, where the passengers and crew were released before it was destroyed.

Japan Airlines Boeing 747-200
Some JAL 747-200Bs had three upper deck windows. Photo: Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons

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The 747-300

The 747-300 proved to be one of Boeing’s less popular jumbo variants. All in all, the US planemaker produced just 81 units of this version, which was quickly overshadowed by the 747-400’s increased capabilities and two-person glass cockpit. Nevertheless, JAL operated a not inconsiderable fleet of 747-300s, which eventually totaled 18 aircraft.

These 18 planes represented 22% of Boeing’s entire 747-300 output. JAL received the aircraft between 1983 and 1998, with three examples leased from Australian flag carrier Qantas between 1992 and 1994. JAL’s remaining 747-300s departed between 1998 and 2009.

Japan Airlines Boeing 747 Getty
JAL operated a comparatively large number of the rare Boeing 747-300. Photo: Getty Images

The 747-400

The 747-400 was the most numerous variant that Boeing produced of its legendary jumbo jet. Correspondingly, this was also the version that JAL operated the most examples of over the years. Data from ATDB.aero shows that the Japanese flag carrier flew a total of 49 passenger-carrying 747-400s, as well as seven examples of the cargo version.

As far as JAL’s passenger-carrying 747s were concerned, they arrived at the airline between 1990 and 2001. They left over a much shorter spell, which spanned just two years from 2009 to 2011. Most examples returned to various lessors, although, in at least one instance, an aircraft went straight to US cargo carrier Kalitta Air for a freight conversion.

Did you know that JAL has operated the most 747s of any airline? Have you ever flown on one of the Japanese flag carrier’s many jumbos? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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