What are the Top 10 Most Popular Planes in the last 70 years?

Photo: FedEx Express MD-11 Cargo on approach at London Stansted; photo Credit Thomas Saunders
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LONDON – When we look back at aviation there have been many incredible aircraft built in the last 70 years, even in the last 30 years we have seen the way we travel completely change, but which aircraft are the most popular and why?

Well, we are going to take a quick dive in and grade the most popular planes built in the last 70 years, so fasten your seat belts and cross-check your doors as we take off with our list!

10.

Starting in 10th place for us is the Airbus A220 formally known as the C Series CS-100/300. While it is not the oldest plane on our top 10 list it is a plane that defiantly deserves all the attention it gets, a modern single-aisle aircraft that has been vastly popular with airlines around the globe.

It offers airlines great value and is very versatile, with the A220-100 also holding a rating for step approaches allowing it to fly into more remote airports such as London City Airport.

Since the A220 was introduced, it has gone on to see 654 orders with 164 deliveries, giving us a backlog of 490 aircraft as of June 30, 2021, with the A220-300 being the most popular of the two variants.

The A220 has seen some of its great success particularly in the US market where carriers JetBlue and Delta airlines have ordered 70 and 95 aircraft respectively and the aircraft continues to be the perfect replacement for the aging Embraer and regional CRJ jet markets in the U.S with new start-up airline Breeze Airways also ordering 60 of the type.

9.

Flying in at number 9 is another Airbus aircraft, the Airbus A310. Built in 1982 39 years ago, the aircraft went on for very successful service and in its 15 years of production saw 255 aircraft delivered to airlines across the globe.

The aircraft was Airbus’s response to the Boeing 767-200 and with its increased range and ETOPS regulations saw it become a popular aircraft to operate transatlantic flights with.

While it is not the most popular plane ever built in terms of orders, without the A310 we might never have experienced the aircraft that would go on to replace it with the A330-200.

In addition to its rich history, the A310 will hold a special note in history as one of the first widebody aircraft that UAE national flag carrier Emirates airlines ever operated after the airline leased it off Gulf Air and you could argue that the planes incredible diversity and range gave birth to one the greatest airlines ever built.

8.

Moving on to number 8 and this one was too close to call, so we have to say that in 8th place would be the Boeing 737 and the A320, these workhorse aircraft have been and continue to be the backbone of every airline in the globals regional service fleet and are the two most popular single-aisle short-haul planes ever built.

Later variations of the Aircraft the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo have done wonders to modernize these aircraft and allows them to continue to dominate the market in an almost even 50/50 split around the globe, with many European carriers opting for the A320 while many U.S carriers prefer the 737.

Given the problems that both the A320neo and the 737 MAX had in their early years, we have seen the door open for planes such as the new A220 to work their way into the market, with Embrars E175-E2 which was delayed in its launch due to COVID-19 expecting to shake up the market with it offering a slighter better range and fuel burn rate per passenger compared to certain variants of the B737 MAX and A320neo family.

7.

The aircraft taking seventh place on our list is defiantly unique the DC-10. This tri-engine jet was intended to succeed the DC-8 for long-range flights and first flew on Aust 29 1970 and was first introduced into service with American Airlines on August 5, 1971.

The first variant of the aircraft had a range of 3,600 nautical miles but later developments would see the DC-10-30/40 models upgraded with more powerful engines and had a third main landing gear leg added to support the additional weights, with it boasting an impressive intercontinental range of up to 5,200 nautical miles.

Later in its life, the plane would have strong support in the U.S airforce as a tanker the KC-10 Extender, which is not a direct edit of the plane but is based on the same design and specs ad the DC-10-30.

The plane was in production from 1968 to 1989 and saw around 386 units delivered to airlines alongside 60 KC-10 tankers making it the most popular tri-engine jet in the world and saw it completely outsell the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, the aircraft would later be replaced by the MD-11 which was an extended version of the aircraft.

While it did not sell well with airlines the cargo variant of the MD-11 is still flying alongside the DC-10 to this day and remains a favourite among cargo operators such as FedEx.

6.

Now onto number 6 and this aircraft needs no introduction. The aircraft that still is operating to this day was a true revolutionary plane of its time. It is of course the Boeing 767.

While many may feel that the 757 should share this podium, for us the 767 stands just that bit higher in terms of its popularity and success. The aircraft was launched on July 14, 1978, as the 7X7 project and first entered service on September 8 1982 with United Airlines.

Since then the plane has gone on to be one of the most popular middle-market aircraft in the globe, with over 1200 units made as of July 2021, and with the aircraft still in production, that number will continue to rise.

Mainly operated by Delta and United airlines as passenger planes now, the 767 is predominantly operated by freighter airlines FedEx Express and UPS, with both Delta and United airlines looking to retire the aircraft should a suitable NMA (new middle-market airplane) be announced.

5.

Moving up into our top 5 and this is where things start to become hard.

For us in fifth place is the beautiful Boeing 787 Dreamliner, this aircraft is truly incredible and a sign of the incredible design and manufacturing abilities of the 21st century, a stylishly modern and fuel-efficient aircraft and a global favourite with airlines around the world, placing it in 5th place was not an easy decision but based on the troubles the plane had in its early years we felt that it falls just a hair short of that number 4 spot.

The aircraft has issues in its early years with the APU which for us feels like should bump it down to the number 4 spot, as despite the issues now being completely fixed this was an oversight on behalf of Boeing that we would not expect them to make.

However, it is worth noting that for us in the coming years we may see this plane climb to that number 3 spot with the 787-9 and 787-10 becoming more popular with airlines globally.

4.

Just outside the top three, we have the Airbus’ response to the Dreamliner, the Airbus A350 XWB, an incredible modern efficient widebody aircraft that stands just above the Dreamliner for us.

With the reasons mentioned above, we feel the A350 is just above the Dreamliner in its operational options for airlines, one of the main tipping points for this was the fact that the A350 offer airlines the ability to run multi-licensing on their crew, which means that pilots and cabin crew can change between the A350 and the A330/330neo aircraft without having to gain a whole new type rating and only needing differences training.

This allows airlines such as french carrier French Bee to be much more flexible on how they deploy aircraft and also how they deploy crew.

The A350 which has also just been announced to have a freighter variant being built on it is the new flagship aircraft for Airbus as it moves forward from its A380 days and for us is a plane which holds its own in fourth place.

3.

So here we are the top three, the medal positions, these were probably easier than all the others before then, these three planes sit head and shoulders above the rest and will never be forgotten in the world of aviation.

So who has taken the Bronze medal position? well, it is of course the Boeing 777, this incredible revolutionary plane is one of the most sold and operated widebody planes ever built around the globe and still to this day is operated by airlines and cargo companies with no signs of this plane leaving our skies in the next 20 years it is a perfect place to start of our medal positions.

The 777 is the workhorse of many airlines globally and has been ordered and delivered more than any other wide-body airliner; as of August 2019, more than 60 customers had placed orders for 2,049 aircraft of all variants, with 1,609 delivered.

The most common and successful variant is the 777-300ER with 844 aircraft ordered and 810 delivered.

2.

The silver medal goes to a plane that changed the world, it is the most successful double-decker plane ever built and is a true icon for aviation and what we can achieve with aircraft.

While its newer variant the Boeing 747-800 would not be a success we cannot take away the rights of passage and qualities that the B747-400 holds.

It truly is the Queen of the skies and is a masterpiece loved by customers, pilots, and aviation enthusiasts it has no other place to sit other than the silver medal only one plane truly surpasses this plane, and even then it’s not by much.

Sadly all of the 747-400’s saw their mass retirement in 2021 and will no longer grace our skies again but it surely left a legacy that no plane will ever be able to beat, as the old saying goes, “don’t be sad because it is over, be happy that it happened.”

1.

So here we are, the gold medal, which planes for us are head and shoulders above the rest you might ask? Well, this was not a hard choice for us at all, the clear winner and obvious choice for the gold medal have to be the Concorde.

This truly one of a kind aircraft changed the way we looked at air travel, not only was it a modern engineering masterpiece it set a standard for what is possible with modern engineering and showed us what was possible to achieve when we work together and explore what many had probably thought at the time was not possible.

While it was never a financial success no aircraft ever drew crowds quite like the Concorde, there is no other plane other than the Queen of the Skies that comes close to taking the Gold off this aircraft which was retired in 2004, and now 17 years on all we can do is look back and marvel and how incredible this aircraft was and looking to the future with an open mind on if the Boom Supersonic aircraft will be able to capture that same imagination and the hearts of so many again.

Do you agree with our list? Be sure to leave a comment on our social media on which planes you think would make it into your top 10!

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About the author

Tomos Howells

Tomos Howells is the Chief Executive Officer for AviationSource. He will handle the day-to-day operations of the group, whether it be the financials or any extensive projects within the group.

Like with James, Tomos came from Airways Magazine as well after a successful writing stint within a two-year period.

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