The iconic Boeing 747 and its younger widebody counterpart the Boeing 777 are both trailblazers. The 747 was the first widebody commercial jet to be developed, and the 777 is the world’s largest twinjet aircraft.
These aircraft first flew commercially in 1970 and 1995 respectively. Both of these aircraft have been highly popular with airlines and passengers and continue to play a significant role in air passenger and freight transport around the world.
In this article, I compare these two Boeing aircraft and delve into their histories and also look at key attributes such as size, seating capacity, and range.
A Brief History of Boeing 747 and 777
The 747 was Boeing’s first wide-body commercial airliner and was conceived as air travel started to surge and airfares started to decrease, creating the opportunity for larger commercial aircraft. There are many evolutions of the 747 with multiple early variants in production at the same time.
The 747-100 was launched by Boeing in 1966 and took its first commercial flight in 1970. Other variants followed such as the 100B with a higher maximum take-off weight, and the 100SR with a shorter range, but higher capacity.
The 100SR was developed in response to requests from Japanese airlines for a high-capacity aircraft with seating for around 500 passengers to serve domestic routes between major Japanese cities. It debuted in 1973. The 747-100B was developed with increased fuel capacity and range. This aircraft was built in small numbers and first flew commercially in 1979.
Meanwhile, demand was growing for longer-range aircraft with increased capacity, leading to the development of the 747-200. The 747-200 was produced in passenger, freighter, convertible, and combi versions. The 747-200 was launched in 1968 and took its first commercial flight in 1971.
One of the most distinctive 747 variants is the 747-SP which was almost 15m shorter than the 747-100 and was developed in response to airline requests for a longer-range, high-capacity aircraft, and first flew commercially in 1976.
The 747-300 was the first 747 variant to have an extended upper deck and offered increased seating capacity. The 747-300 took its first commercial flight in 1983. Besides the passenger version of the 747-300, Boeing also produced a 747-300 combi and short-range (SR). The 747-300SR had a high seating capacity approaching 600 passengers and, similar to the 747-100SR, was produced for Japanese domestic market.
In 1985, the development of the 747-400 began. This variant had a longer range, a new ‘glass cockpit’ for an aircrew of two, new engines, lighter construction materials, winglets, and a redesigned interior. The 747-400 entered service in 1989.
The 747-400 was offered in passenger, freighter, combi, domestic, extended range passenger, and extended range freighter versions. The 747-400D was built for short-range operations with maximum seating for more than 600 passengers.
The longer-range 747-400ERs were launched in late 2000. The 747-400ERs are the same size as the 747-400s but have a slightly longer range with an auxiliary fuel tank in the forward cargo hold, and an option for a second tank.
In November 2005, Boeing announced it was launching the 747-8 – the stretched fuselage and longer wingspan 747-8 Intercontinental (747-8I) passenger aircraft and the 747-8 Freighter (747-8F). The 747-8 incorporates innovative technologies from the 787 Dreamliner, including GEnx-2B engines, raked wingtips, a reduced noise footprint, reduced carbon emissions, lower weight, less fuel consumption, fewer parts, and less maintenance.
The 747-8F made its maiden flight in February 2010 and the first delivery went to Cargolux in 2011. At 76.3m long, the 747-8F is 5.6m longer than the 747-400F, allowing it to carry an additional seven cargo pallets.
The first 747-8I took its maiden flight in March 2011 and the first customer delivery was in February 2012. The 747-8I can accommodate 51 additional seats and 26% more cargo volume than the 747-400. Passenger comfort in the cabin is enhanced by sculpted ceilings, bigger overhead compartments, a redesigned staircase, and dynamic LED lighting.
The 747 was the first wide-body aircraft to achieve more than 1,500 orders. The manufacture of the 747 is scheduled to end in 2022 after a 54-year production run.
Renowned 747s include:
- The original Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, modified by NASA from 747-100s.
- The Dreamlifter — a specially modified 747-400 that transports large cargoes, such as fuselage sections of the 787 Dreamliner.
- Two 747-200s modified in 1990 to serve as Air Force One.
The entry into service for the main 747 variants is shown in the table below:
|Aircraft Model||Type||First In Service|
The 777-200 was launched in 1989 to fill the gap in the market and in Boeing’s product catalog between the 747 and the 767. The first 777-200 delivery took place in 1995. ETOPS (180 minutes) approval was achieved at the same time.
Boeing then developed an increased weight and range variant – the 777-200ER, which entered service in 1997.
Following the introduction of the 777-200ER, Boeing turned its attention to a 777 stretched version. With a length of almost 74m, the 777-300 became the longest airliner ever produced until it was superseded by the Airbus A340-600.
The 777-300 delivered 20% more capacity compared to the 777-200, and went into service in 1998.
In 2000, Boeing launched its next-generation twinjet program. The first model to emerge from the program, the 777-300ER went into service in 2004. The 777-300ER became a hugely successful product, combining the capacity of the 777-300 with the 777-200ER’s range, and benefitted from the airline industry’s desire to cut operating costs and switch from 4-engine to 2-engine aircraft.
A second long-range model, the 777-200LR, went into airline service in 2006.
The 777F went into service in 2009 and was based on the structural design and engine specifications of the 777-200LR and fuel tanks derived from the 777-300ER.
In 2013 Boeing formally launched the 777-8 and 777-9. The 777-9 will be a stretched, higher capacity version of the 777-8 with a slightly lower range. Both models are to be equipped with new generation GE9X engines and feature new composite wings with folding wingtips. At 76.72m long, the 777-9 will supersede the 76.25m long 747-8 as the world’s longest airliner.
Delivery of these latest 777 aircraft has been delayed a number of times, with Boeing now estimating 2025 for the 777-9.
In 2014, cumulative sales of the 777 exceed those of the 747, making the 777 the best-selling widebody airliner.
The main 777 variants are listed below:
|Aircraft Model||Type||First In Service|
Boeing 747 vs. 777: Dimensions
Let’s take a look at some key physical characteristics and see how the passenger versions of these two aircraft measure up against each other:
|Aircraft Model||Length/ m||Wingspan/ m||Cabin Width/ m||Height/ m||MTOW/ kg|
|777-200/ 200ER||63.73||60.93||5.86||18.5||247,200/ 297,550|
|777-8||69.79||72.80/ 64.85 (folded)||5.96||19.49||351,533|
|777-8F||70.9||72.80/ 64.85 (folded)||5.96||19.50||N/A|
|777-9||76.72||72.80/ 64.85 (folded)||5.96||19.53||351,533|
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) classifies aircraft by size, and wingspan is one of the main sizing criteria. Until the development of the 747-8, the 747 was an ICAO Code E aircraft with wingspans less than 65m.
The 747-8, with its 68.5m, moved into the larger Code F category, the same category as the Airbus A380.
Similarly, until now the 777 has been an ICAO Code E aircraft with wingspans less than 65m. The 777-8 and 777-9, with an unfolded wingspan of 71.55m moves the new 777 variants into the larger Code F category.
However, to avoid large-scale, expensive airport infrastructure modifications, Boeing has introduced folding wings for the 777-8 and -9 which will allow the wingspan to reduce to just less than 65m, which will allow the 777-8 and -9 to taxi and park on airport Code E infrastructure.
Boeing 747 vs. 777: Range
The evolution of both the 747 and 777 has generally seen increases in range as each variant has been rolled out. Ranges of 8,000nm or more, as seen in the more recent variants of these aircraft, allow an increasing number of new ultra-long-haul city pairs to be connected.
Below is an overview of the different aircraft’s ranges:
|777-200LR||8,555 nm (15,843 km)|
|777-300ER||7,370 nm (13,649 km)|
Boeing 747 vs. 777: Capacity
Boeing indicates the following typical 2-class seating capacities:
- 777-200ER/LR: 315
- 777-300ER: 396
- 747-8: 475
However, these numbers are for comparison purposes only, as in practice airlines will fit out their aircraft in many different seating configurations, and actual seat numbers can vary significantly between different variants, even within the same airline.
In practice, we see a huge variety around these numbers as airlines have fitted out these aircraft in 2-, 3-, and 4-class configurations.
For each aircraft, I’ve looked at how a variety of different current operators have configured their cabins.
There are not that many airlines operating the 747 these days. I’ve had a look at how Air China, Asiana, Korean Air, Lufthansa, and Thai Airways have fitted out their current 747 fleets:
You can see a certain consistency here with 747-400 and 747-8 seat numbers typically around 360 with 3 or 4-class configurations. The upper deck is typically used for business class, whereas the nose of the lower deck is typically occupied by the first class cabin.
Long gone are the days when the upper deck was an exclusive lounge for premium class passengers, often functioning as a sit-down restaurant, drinking, and social lounge, or even a piano bar!
I also looked at the seating plans for carriers with large 777 fleets such as Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, American Airlines, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and United Airlines to find typical seat numbers for 2, 3, and 4-class cabin configurations:
|Airlines||Aircraft Model(s)||No. of Classes||Average Total Seats|
|777-200, 777-200LR, 777-200ER||3||309|
Air New Zealand
Boeing indicates that the 777-8 and 777-9 will seat 384 and 426 passengers respectively in a 2-class cabin configuration.
Boeing 747 vs. 777: Customers and Orders
Boeing has received 1,768 orders in total for the 747 over a 57-year order period. As of the time of writing this article, only three of these are unfulfilled (all 747-8F).
The most popular 747 variant has been the 747-400 series which received a total of 804 orders, including, passenger, combi, and freight versions, or 45% of total 747 orders. Approximately two-thirds of 747 orders have been for passenger versions and one-third for freighter and combi versions.
The best year for 747 orders was 1990 when a total of 173 747s were ordered.
The top 747 customer was Japan Airlines which ordered a total of 126 aircraft, followed by British Airways which ordered 103 aircraft. United Airlines was the top US customer with 98 orders.
Let’s take a closer look at the 200 orders for the B747-8.
For the 777-8I there have been 58 orders, all of which have now been delivered. The biggest customer is Lufthansa accounting for 34% of all 747-8I orders. Interestingly, Boeing received eleven orders for B747-8I aircraft from business jet/VIP customers.
For the 747-8F Boeing has received 142 orders from a variety of customers, the biggest being UPS which ordered 29 aircraft.
The 777 has received 2,329 orders in total over a 33-year order period since its launch in 1990. The most popular 777 to date is the 777-300ER which has received a total of 880 orders, or 38% of the total 777 orders.
The best year for 777 orders was 2014 when a total of 283 777s were ordered, including a massive order of 150 new generation 777-X aircraft by Emirates.
Emirates is also the top 777 customer to date – it has ordered a total of 291 777s, followed by Qatar Airways which has ordered 159 777s. United Airlines is the top US customer with 127 orders so far.
As of the time of writing this article, there are 432 unfulfilled orders for 777 aircraft, as follows:
- 777-300ER – 6 aircraft
- 777-X (777-8 and 777-9) – 341 aircraft, with nearly two-thirds of these going to Middle-Eastern carriers
- 777F – 85 aircraft
Boeing 747 and 777 Fun Facts
Boeing has added some interesting and fun facts to its 747 website pages, these include:
- With its four GEnx-2B 787 Technology Engines the 748-8 can traverse three soccer fields in one second.
- The 747-8 tail is as tall as a six-storey building.
- The 747-8F can carry 10,767 solid gold bars worth more than $US5bn!
- Pan American Airways was the first airline to order 747 aircraft in April 1966.
For the 777, some fun facts include:
- United Airlines was the first airline to order 777 aircraft in October 1990.
- Since the 777 was first delivered, the world’s 777 fleet has flown more than 1.25 million flights.
- In 1997 a Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER broke the great circle ‘distance without landing’ record for an airliner, flying eastward from Seattle to Kuala Lumpur, a distance of 10,823 nautical miles (20,044 km), in 21 hours and 23 minutes.
Boeing 747 vs. 777: Cabin Layout
Finally, let’s see how these two aircraft compare in terms of the all-important cabin seating layouts.
The 777 interior allows for cabin configurations of up to ten seats per row in economy class with 2 aisles (3-4-3). Some carriers restrict their aircraft to nine seats per row in economy class (3-3-3).
Premium economy class seating on the 777 varies from eight to ten seats per row (2-4-2, 3-3-3, 3-4-3) with the higher numbers being essentially economy class with extra legroom.
For business class, the seating layout varies greatly from a minimum of four seats per row (1-2-1) to eight seats per row in British Airways’ old alternating backwards and forwards facing seats (2-4-2). Other layouts include 2-2-2, and 2-3-2.
In first class the 777 seats tend to be 1-2-1, or sometimes 2-2-2.
The 747 cabin interior allows cabin configurations of up to ten seats per row in economy class, and typically eight seats per row (2-4-2) in premium economy class.
Of the remaining current operators of the 747, the lower deck premium cabins are typically laid out as follows:
- First class: 4 seats per row maximum (1-2-1) to 2 seats per row (1-1) at the narrow nose of the aircraft.
- Business class: 6 seats per row (2-2-2)
Where business class is situated on the upper deck the seating layout tends to be 4 seats per row (2-2).
Boeing 747 vs. 777: Summary
The 747 and 777 are true Boeing trailblazers.
The 747 ‘Queen of the Skies’ was the first wide-body passenger jet and has evolved and developed over a production period lasting more than 50 years. Many aviation enthusiasts will be sad to see the last 747 roll out of the Boeing assembly plant later this year.
The 777 ‘Triple Seven’ was the first widebody twinjet passenger aircraft and has been a remarkably successful component of Boeing’s commercial jet offering. We look forward to the next evolution of the 777 in the form of the 777-9 which is due to be rolled out to its many signed-up customers in 2027 if Boeing can maintain its current production schedule.