Concorde vs. Boeing 747: Comparing World’s Two Most Iconic Airliners

When you look at the Boeing 747 and Concorde you’ll see that physically they don’t have much in common.

However, what they do share is that they are both among the most recognizable and iconic commercial aircraft that have ever graced our skies. Both are also extremely well-loved and held with much affection by those who have flown in them. They also flew for the first at a similar time.

Apart from these commonalities, there’s not much else that these aircraft types share in terms of physical and performance characteristics.

Despite this, we thought it would be interesting to look briefly at the histories of these two aircraft and make some comparisons to show how they differ and discover whether there are in fact any similarities. 

Concorde vs. Boeing 747

A Brief History of the Two Iconic Jets

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.

Concorde was a joint French-British venture which flew for the first time in 1969. However, commercial services did not start until 1976. Only twenty Concorde aircraft were built (14 production and 6 prototype/development aircraft).

Boeing 747

The first 747 variant, the 747-100, was launched by Boeing in 1966 and did its first commercial flight in 1970. Over the next five decades, a wide variety of 747 variants were produced with varying capacities and ranges, including passenger, freighter, combi, and convertible versions.

The 747-300 entered service in 1983 and was the first 747 to have an extended upper deck. Whereas the 747-400, which first flew commercially in 1989, heralded the introduction of a new ‘glass cockpit’ that could be operated by an aircrew of two.

In 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 first 747-8I customer delivery was in February 2012.

The 747 was the first wide-body aircraft to achieve more than 1,500 orders. Production of the 747 is scheduled to end in 2022 after a 54-year production run. 

Renowned non-commercial 747s include:

  • The original Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, modified by NASA from 747-100s
  • The Dreamlifter — a specially modified 747-400 that transports large cargo, such as fuselage sections of the 787 Dreamliner
  • In 1990, two 747-200s were modified to serve as Air Force One

Boeing 747

Concorde

The origins of the Concorde go back to the 1950s when the UK government appointed an expert panel called the Supersonic Transport Advisory Committee (STAC) to investigate the feasibility of a passenger aircraft that could fly faster than the speed of sound.

Meanwhile, the French were also investigating the same possibility, and this led to a 1962 treaty to design and jointly develop a supersonic passenger aircraft with factories in Filton, UK, and Toulouse, France.

The first Concorde prototype, 001, rolled out of the Toulouse factory in December 1967. Test flights of both the British and the French-built Concordes started in October 1969.

The first flight to the US took place to mark the opening of the new Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Commercial services began in 1976; British Airways operated a Concorde service between London Heathrow and Bahrain, and Air France operated between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Rio de Janeiro via Dakar.

In order to fly to the USA, a public hearing was required following which the US authorities granted approval for trial flights to New York and Washington which commenced in 1977. The London – New York flying time was 3.5 hours. 

Both the French and British Governments were keen to sell the aircraft to airlines, and a number of airlines including Qantas, Pan Am, and Japan Airlines initially showed interest. Some airlines even placed orders, but later cancelled them. Concerns over noise, emissions, and escalating costs resulted in only Air France and British Airways as buyers.

The lack of buyers meant that only fourteen production Concordes were ever built, and production ended in 1979.

Concorde flew for just over two decades and became synonymous with speed, luxury, and style, as well as the remarkable fact that your arrival time in New York was earlier than your departure time from London!

In July 2000, an Air France Concorde tragically crashed in Paris shortly after take-off. All 100 passengers and 9 crew on board were killed, as well as four people on the ground. The accident was attributed to a fragment of metal on the airport runway that had become dislodged from another aircraft. This piece of metal punctured a tyre causing a fuel tank explosion.

Following this, Concorde flights were suspended for almost a year to allow for the introduction of new safety improvements such as Kevlar-lined fuel tanks and improved electrical controls.

Passenger flights resumed in November 2001. However, the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attacks in New York earlier in 2001 led to a slump in air travel and falling passenger numbers. By 2003, Concorde was considered no longer commercially viable, and both British Airways and Air France announced its retirement.

The final Concorde commercial flight took place in October 2003. 

Air France Concorde

Dimensions

When it comes to size there’s no comparison, the 747 is a much bigger aircraft in all respects – length, wingspan, fuselage width, and height. And, these aircraft also differ significantly in terms of overall appearance.

The subsonic 747 has a more traditional aircraft design, although is instantly recognizable with its upper deck hump. The supersonic Concorde’s appearance is characterized by its hydraulically controlled cone-shaped nose, its narrow fuselage, and its delta-shaped wings.   

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at some key physical characteristics and see how these two aircraft measure up against each other.

For the 747 I’ll use the statistics of the main 747-100 to 747-400 variants and not complicate matters by including the shorter SP version or the longer 747-8. If you want to learn more details, check this article about 747 specs.

Aircraft ModelLength/ mWingspan/ mCabin Width/ mHeight/ mMTOW/ kg
Concorde61.6625.602.6312.20185,070
747-100, -200, -300 and -40070.7059.606.0819.30340,200 – 412, 800

Performance

The evolution of the 747 has generally seen increases in range as each variant has been rolled out, with the range of the 747-8 approaching 8,000nm, approximately twice the Concorde’s range of 3,900nm.

When it comes to speed and cruising altitude it’s obvious that the Concorde comes out on top, traveling at more than twice the speed of a 747. After all, Concorde is famous for its Mach 2.0 cruising speed.

Aircraft RangeCruising SpeedCruising Altitude
7474,600 – 7,770nm (8,500km – 14,300km)Mach 0.85 (1,050kph/650mph)35,000ft
Concorde3,900nm (7,222km)Mach 2.02 (2,490kph/ 1,550mph)60,000ft

Capacity and Cabin Layout

Boeing says the 3-class seating capacity of the 747-8 is 410 seats. However, in practice, we see a huge variety of seat numbers depending on how many classes are included and whether the aircraft has flatbed seats in the premium cabins.

I have done some research and looked at a variety of airline seating layouts for the 747-8 laid out in 3-class and 4-class cabin configurations, and I would say that typically a 747-8 holds between 340 and 370 passengers. The 747 upper deck is typically used for business class with four seats (2-2) per row, 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!

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, although some airlines have ten seats per row 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)

Boeing 747 Cabin

British Airways’ and Air France’s Concorde aircraft had 100 seats, 40 in the forward cabin, and 60 in the rear cabin, arranged in a 2-2 layout.

Whilst I never had the opportunity to fly in a Concorde, I was lucky enough to take a look inside one of British Airway’s Concordes at its Heathrow Airport Maintenance Base.

What struck me about the passenger cabin was how narrow it was and how small the seats were for a premium travel experience. However, the leather seats looked comfortable enough and adequate for a 3.5-hour flight. 

Customers and Orders

Boeing has received 1,768 orders in total for the 747 over a 57-year order period. To date, 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. The least popular 747 series was the 747-300 with less than 100 aircraft delivered.

Boeing 747 Top Customers

With only 14 production aircraft, Concorde is dwarfed by the 747 in terms of commercial success. In fact, with development and production costs significantly exceeding sales revenues, Concorde, in contrast to the 747, cannot be considered a commercial success.

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.

Whilst British Airways and Air France ended up being the only airline customers for the Concorde, there are some interesting stories related to other airlines that were interested in operating Concorde services.

A variety of airlines placed non-binding options for more than 100 Concorde aircraft. Other than British Airways and Air France, these airlines included Pan Am, BOAC, Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines, Air India, United Airlines, Lufthansa, American Airlines, TWA, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, Braniff, Olympic Airways, and Qantas. However, the Concorde only became part of British Airways’ and Air France’s fleets.

Despite this, some airlines did try and get on the supersonic act:

  • At the end of 1977, British Airways and Singapore Airlines shared one Concorde for flights between London and Singapore via Bahrain. The aircraft was painted in Singapore Airlines livery on one side and British Airways livery on the other. Following disputes with and complaints from the Malaysian and Indian Governments, this troubled route became unviable and was discontinued in 1980.
  • Starting in December 1978, Braniff International Airways leased eleven Concordes from Air France and British Airways, although the aircraft retained full Air France/British Airways liveries. These aircraft were deployed on flights between Dallas-Fort Worth and Washington D.C., flying at subsonic speed by Braniff flight crews. Air France and British Airways crews then flew these aircraft for flights to London and Paris. These flights tended to have low occupancy and were not profitable, forcing Braniff to cease Concorde operations in May 1980.
  • Several UK and French tour operators operated popular Concorde charter flights to European destinations on a regular basis.
  • British Airways’ rival British Caledonian took a strong interest in Concorde and made an initial offer to buy one aircraft. However, British Caledonian subsequently arranged a lease of two Concordes. The plan was to operate services between London Gatwick and Lagos, and London Gatwick and Atlanta. However, the 1979 energy crisis brought about a steep rise in oil, and hence aviation fuel, prices, and British Caledonian cancelled its Concorde plans.

Boeing 747 vs. Concorde: Summary

The 747 and Concorde are true aviation icons, both first emerging in the late 1960s.

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 (2022).

Concorde was the first supersonic passenger-carrying commercial aircraft. And, whilst it was not a commercial success it was well-loved by those fortunate enough to fly in it.

And, although these two aircraft are physically very different, both are instantly recognizable in their own ways, and both have cemented their positions in the history of commercial aviation.

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