Introduction: Boeing 777 vs 747
There are two kinds of airliners: a wide-body aircraft and a narrow-body aircraft. The former has a fuselage with two aisles and the latter with a single aisle. As of 2022, four models of Boeing wide-body aircraft are in operation: B767, B787, B777, and B747. Boeing’s competitor Airbus has six wide-body models in operation: A300, A310, A330, A340, A350, and A380.
B767 and B787 are often in comparison as B787 is said to be a replacement for B767. Likewise, A340 and A350 are often discussed together for the same reason. Aviation fans also like comparing A380 and B747 as they are the only double-deckers in airliners as of today. However, many airlines have announced retirement of these Jumbos and Super Jumbos—Air France, China Southern Airlines, Qantas, British Airways, and many others. Now, 777 has been pointed as an ideal replacement for them. So let’s discover how they compare, Boeing 777 vs 747.
Boeing 747 | The First Wide-Body Airliner
The Queen of the Skies—this is how aviation fans call this world’s first wide-body aircraft. The Boeing 747 made her sky debut on 9th February 1969. Indeed, the brilliant and dedicated work of some 50,000 Boeing people made the Queen’s debut possible within a decade after the project started to build an aircraft twice the size of the Boeing 707. The aircraft is more commonly nicknamed “Jumbo Jet” for its gigantic fuselage. As of 2022, Boeing built and delivered 1,569 aircraft of Boeing 747s.
1970 | First Commercial Flight on Pan Am Clipper Vector
Its launching customer was Pan Am, the iconic airline to fly worldwide for the first time in the world who unfortunately ceased operations in 1991. The Boeing 747 inaugural commercial flight was on 21st January 1970 from New York John F. Kennedy to London Heathrow.
In those days, airplanes used to carry names. Pan Am typically named their fleet the “Clippers“: Clipper Alert (Pan Am Boeing 727 registered N4731), Clipper Ann McKim (Pan Am Boeing 707 registered N414PA), etc. Among them, Clipper Vector, whose registration number was N736PA, was the first Boeing 747 in service, entertaining 352 passengers. However, despite her flamboyant debut, Clipper Vector ended her life by misfortune some seven years later. The very same 747 aircraft tail numbered N736PA was involved in the deadliest accident in 1977, causing 583 fatalities.
1970s | Jumbo Gained Popularity Soon
Setting aside this misfortune, Boeing 747 soon became everyone’s favourite; airlines, pilots, and passengers, they all loved this fascinating double decker. (I also loved flying the Queen as a child and I still do!)
First thing to catch your attention, her partly double-decked fuselage was absolutely stunning. The elegant line of the hump, the powerful four engines on the wings, the stylish form of the entire body—these elements made flying 747 more special.
In addition, Boeing 747 made air travel more efficient thanks to its increased capacity. The capacity of Boeing 747 was much larger than other commercial airliners at the time. In fact, it was twice the capacity of Boeing 707, the aircraft that was common in the 1960s. Thanks to the maximized capacity, airlines were now able to carry more passengers in one go. The increased capacity made air travelling more affordable, flourishing the aviation industry.
Pilots also enjoyed flying 747. They described handling Boeing 747 like “flying a giant Piper J-3 Cub.” The Piper J-3 Cub was an aircraft ten times smaller than the Boeing 747, which proves the efforts of the 50,000 Boeing people. Furthermore, travelling on this aerial giant is much less turbulent than on smaller aircraft. That is because turbulence is generally worse in smaller planes than in larger planes. The bigger the plane, the less turbulent—less turbulent flights are much preferred not only by passengers but also by cockpit crew and cabin crew.
1980s – 1990s | More Improvements: 747-400 ‘High-Tech’ Jumbo
Ever since its first commercial flight in 1970, Boeing launched numerous 747 variants. These included but were not limited to: 747SR (Short Range), 747SP (Special Performance), 747B (with stronger airframe and landing gear design), 747-200, 747-300, and 747-400. The newest model is 747-800, whose production started in 2008.
Among them, 747-400 was the best-selling variant with a total of 694 deliveries. Northwest Airlines was the launching customer of 747-400 in 1989. The nickname of the Boeing 747-400 was High-tech Jumbo for its improved features such as fuel efficiency and glass cockpit. To distinguish this improved model, aviation fans usually call the previous models 747-100, -200, and -300 “Classic Jumbo.”
The Classic Jumbo required a cockpit crew of three. Now, only a cockpit crew of two could fly the High-tech Jumbo. And the wings of High-tech Jumbo became larger: from 59.6 m to 64.4 m. Therefore, the range extended from 9,800 km to 13,490 km. Although depending on configuration and model, it could carry more than 500 passengers.
2000s | Airlines Started Retiring the Queen
However, the aviation climate was changing rapidly around the late 1990s to early 2000s. Especially, the emergence of the dual-level aircraft Airbus 380 disrupted the supremacy of the Boeing 747. Although Boeing pitched the development of newer versions of 747 such as 747-500X, -600X and -400LR, they failed to catch attention to start the production.
Boeing ceased production of passenger versions of the 747-400s in 2005 and freighter versions in 2009. Instead they announced plans for the Boeing 747-800 in 2005. However, this version also did not meet Boeing’s expectation.
During the late 2010s to present, many airlines announced the retirement of the Queen. Even the leading operators of 747, United Airlines, Japan Airlines, British Airways, and Singapore Airlines have said their farewells to their beloved 747 fleet.
Probably, the Queen of the Skies became outdated—more and more new technologies have emerged in the aviation industry. Moreover, airlines are no longer after the gigantic quad-jet that consumes more energy. They prefer more fuel-efficient, advanced planes. What was unfortunate for the Queen was the COVID-19 outbreak. The demand for air travel plunged due to the pandemic, which have accelerated the farewells to Boeing’s aerial monster.
Boeing 777 | The World’s Largest Twinjet
The success of Boeing 747 and 767 (a smaller wide-body and medium-range aircraft with a capacity of around 200 passenger) had made Boeing the leading aircraft manufacturer by the 1980s. By the late 80s, Boeing’s then-competitors Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas announced the end of production of their wide-body planes, L-1011 TriStar and DC-10. Their capacity was around 250 – 400, which was smaller than 747 and bigger than 767. Now Boeing was in dire need of developing a new model that could potentially become the successor of L-1011 TriStar and DC-10. Boeing needed to fill the gap between 747 and 767 before other competitors Airbus and McDonnell Douglas unveiled new models.
Boeing’s solution was the Triple Seven—Boeing 777. The 777 was cutting-edge: Boeing for the first time designed a commercial aircraft entirely by computer. It also introduced advanced technologies: fully-digital fly-by-wire controls, fully software-configurable aviation electronic system (avionics), LCD glass cockpit displays, and so on.
1995 | United Airlines Introduced 777-200
The development of the Boeing 777 was the result of “Working Together”—the world’s eight major airlines banded together for the new twinjet. So-called “Working Together” team consisted of All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines, Qantas, and United Airlines. The “Working Together” group contributed to the design process of the new twinjet.
Boeing successfully conducted the first flight of 777 on 12th June, 1994. In the following year, United Airlines celebrated her service debut on 7th June. The Boeing 777-200 N777UA entered service from London Heathrow to Washington Dulles. This aircraft numbered N777UA is still in service today.
You may wonder why the first model was not -100 but -200. In fact, Boeing had a concept of 777-100 models earlier. Proposed by American Airlines, the 777-100 was an ultra-long range trijet model. However, the plan did not go forward for its higher cost per seat than that of the bigger-capacity 777-200.
1997 Onwards | Longer Range and Longer Fuselage
The high-tech twinjet had already confirmed 118 orders by the start of production of 777-200s. The number of orders grew steadily. 25 airlines, including satisfied launching customers, placed 323 orders by June 1997.
Following years after the launch of the 777-200s saw the launch of a more improved model: 777-200ER (Extended Range). The 777-200ER model has increased fuel capacity, hence being able to fly longer (up to 14,305 km compared to 9,700 km of 777-200 ). It carries 301 passengers compared to 305 passengers of 777-200. British Airways flew its first 777-200ER in service on 2nd September 1997.
Another improved model was 777-300 whose launching customer was Cathay Pacific. This model was 10 meters longer than the 777-200, carrying 368 passengers with a range up to 11,120 km. Cathay’s first 777-300 was registered B-HNH and its first flight in service was on 27th May 1998. Unfortunately, Cathay has parked many of its fleet due to the COVID-19 pandemic including B-HNH. This aircraft is still grounded in Alice Spring, Australia, as of April 2022.
2000s | A 747 Replacement?: 777-300ER
As mentioned above, airlines were increasingly stepping out of the 747s in the 2000s. And that was when this Mini Jumbo, 777-300ER, took off to a record-breaking journey.
The 777-300ER increased fuel capacity and improved engine thrust, with a capacity of 396 passengers (2-class) a range of 13,649 km. Air France flew its first Boeing 777-300ER on 10th May 2004 as the launching customer.
Since its launch in 2004, the 777-300ER is now the most successful model in the 777 family. It has delivered 829 units to various airlines, with Emirates being the primary customer. Some airlines, including United Airlines, replaced their 747s with 777-300ER.
2020s | Another 747 Replacement?: 777X — But Delayed
Boeing’s 777 adventure hasn’t been over—777X series is yet to debut. Combining the best features and technologies of the 777 and 787 families, Boeing has developed 777X as the world’s largest and most efficient twin-engine jet. The program started in 2013 and 777X has already received 334 orders by the world’s major airlines including Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines.
Due to serious issues related to its engines GE9X (the same engine installed on the 737 MAX), the delivery of the 777X has been significantly delayed. As of April 2022, there is no visibility as to when Boeing will deliver this highly-anticipated model.
If successfully launched, the spec of Boeing 777X will be as follows:
- 777-8 – seating capacity 384, range up to 16,170 km, length 69.79 m;
- 777-9 – seating capacity 426, range up to 13,500 km, length 76.72 m.
Both of them will have folding wingtips on the wings for the first time as a commercial aircraft. The wingspan is 64.82 m on the ground and 71.75 m when extended. The capacity of the 777-9 will be close to that of 747 with a slightly longer range.
Summing up: 777 vs 747
The Boeing 747—the Queen of the Skies—has long stood as the airlines’ favorite wide-body aircraft. Ever since its first commercial flight in 1970 by Pan Am, Boeing has delivered 1,569 aircraft. Japan Airlines was its primary operator, followed by British Airways and Singapore Airlines. However, airlines started bidding farewells to the Queen in the 2000s. This was partly because the old dual-decker plane was no longer attractive with the emergence of A380 with newer technology. Additionally, airlines preferred more fuel-efficient models than the quad-engine jet that consumed much more fuel. The recent pandemic further drove the Jumbo away to retirement as demand for air travel plunged.
The Tiple Seven was the perfect fit for the changing aviation industry. Larger than the Boeing 767 and smaller than the Boeing 747, the Boeing 777 impressed airlines with its cutting-edge technology. Additionally, the twinjet satisfied them by offering a maximized range with a maximized capacity. The number of unit delivered surpassed that of the Boeing 747, reaching 1,679. As of 2022, Emirates is the largest operator of the 777 family. The company has also placed the largest order for the 777X.