Boeing 737 Classic seats totalled 44 million last year, down 224 million since 2010

Boeing 737 Classic seats totalled 44 million last year, down 224 million since 2010 (1)

Boeing 737 Classic aircraft – the -300, -400, and -500 series – produced 43.8 million seats last year, down from 268 million in 2010 – a drop of 224 million.

Of each individual series, the -400 had eight million seats last year, the -500 17.4 million, and the -300 18.3 million.  It is noteworthy how close in seat capacity the -500 and its bigger sister, the -300, were.

B737 Classic seats totalled 44 million last year, down 224 million since 2010

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

Seats by the -300 down 121.3 million since 2010

In 2010, the -300 had 139.6 million seats globally – a 52% share of the total 268 million by all Classics. 

79 airlines used the -300 in 2010, with Southwest by far number-one with almost 50 million – against nine million for second-placed Norwegian.

The -300 has obviously had by far the biggest absolute drop in seats by between 2010 and 2019, down a staggering 121.3 million. 

This is mainly from Southwest – by far the largest user of the -300 – ending the type in 2017. 

At the same time, multiple other operators with four-million-plus seats in 2010 ended it, including Norwegian (in 2015), Air New Zealand (2015), and Lufthansa (2016), together with a raft of Chinese operators, such as Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, and Shandong Airlines.

And earlier this year, airBaltic ceased using the -300 and Dash-8-400 to focus solely on the A220-300, while Chile’s One Airlines ended operations on 24 June.

B737 Classic seats totalled 44 million last year, down 224 million since 2010

The -400 had the biggest percentage fall

Of all three series, the -400 saw the biggest percentage fall in seats, down 89% between 2010 and 2019. 

In contrast, the -500 – the low-capacity aircraft that is disproportionately heavy for its size and therefore less effective cost-wise – saw a percentage seat fall of ‘just’ 68%. 

However, ANA Wings – the world’s third-largest user of the -500 by seats last year – ceased operating the series earlier this month. 

This will be somewhat offset by Bulgaria’s Voyage Air beginning new routes from Varna this summer using the -500, as reported on by anna.aero yesterday.

B737 Classic seats totalled 44 million last year, down 224 million since 2010 (3)

B737-300s: scrap value

The retirement of 737 Classics and the rise of far more fuel-efficient and less maintenance-heavy aircraft has necessarily made older aircraft especially popular in developing countries. 

Perhaps because operators cannot afford – or do not need or cannot acquire due to sanctions – brand-new, use-to-the-max alternatives. 

After all, ownership costs can be extraordinarily low.  From older to newer aircraft, IBA/ISTAT data shows that a -300, for example, can be purchased for $1 million to $1.7 million, or leased for between $35,000 and $50,000 a month – the latter effectively scrap value.

Indonesia tops the Classic seats country table

Indonesia had by far the most seats by 737 Classics last year, with around 23% of all such seats worldwide.  The country had 80 routes operated by them last year.

While most countries saw reductions in such seats last year, including Indonesia, Peru stood out. 

Peru’s Classic seats increased by 75% YOY, ending 2019 in third place.  This was primarily because of the strong growth by Peruvian Airlines – it increased Classic seats by nearly 1.7 million YOY – but this carrier ceased to operate last October. 

B737 Classic seats totalled 44 million last year, down 224 million since 2010

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

The top-10 operators for each Classic series

The following table shows the top-10 airlines for each Classic series last year. Boliviana led for -300s, Safair for -400s, and Indonesia’s NAM Air for -500s.

Europe had a sizeable presence in the top-10, led by Jet2 for -300s, LOT Polish for -400s, and Belavia for -500s. 

Jet2’s top -300-operated route by seats last year was Leeds Bradford – Amsterdam, while it was Warsaw -Paris CDG for LOT’s B737-400s, and Minsk – St Petersburg for Belavia’s -500s.

However, LOT Polish ceased using the -400 in March this year, with its final flight from Krakow to Warsaw. 

North America had only one airline in the top-10 (Flair) with Edmonton – Abbotsford by far its top route with the -400. However, the carrier expects to retire these aircraft this summer.

B737-300s B737-400s B737-500s
Top-10 airlines Seats last year Top-10 airlines Seats last year Top-10 airlines Seats last year
Boliviana 3,642,388 Safair (South Africa) 2,078,340 NAM Air (Indonesia) 4,601,040
Sriwijaya Air (Indonesia) 1,313,352 Iran Aseman 1,085,472 Sriwijaya Air (Indonesia) 2,868,000
Jet2 1,193,028 Flair (Canada) 698,568 ANA Wings 1,719,018
Belavia 952,824 Comair (South Africa) 527,072 Peruvian Airlines 1,610,106
TAROM 949,926 AVIOR (Venezula) 521,856 Belavia 1,042,920
Ruili Airlines (China) 945,295 LOT Polish 507,938 SCAT (Kazakstan) 973,772
Shanghai Airlines 765,576 Albawings (Italy) 484,330 Blue Air (Romania) 931,440
PT Trigana Air (Indonesia) 719,576 Blue Air (Romania) 401,856 Smartavia (Russia) 761,670
Star Peru 662,025 Air Manas (Kyrgyzstan) 295,536 Aero Contractors (Nigeria) 653,140
Avia Traffic Company (Kyrgyzstan) 485,384 Turpial (Venezula) 263,544 airBaltic 335,502
Source: OAG Schedules Analyser. Countries provided where an airline may be less well known. Note: Ruili Airlines and Shanghai Airlines have both stopped using -300s; LOT Polish has stopped using -400s; and ANA Wings and Peruvian Airlines have ended using -500s (Peruvian Airlines has ceased to exist).

The top-10 routes for each Classic series

Last year, the top three countries for seats by -300s were Bolivia, China, and Indonesia.  For -400s, South African, Iran, and Canada.  For -500s, Indonesia, Peru, and Japan.

Not surprisingly, these countries follow through in the top-10 routes for each type.

South Africa is especially dominant in the top-10 list for -400s.  This is primarily from two operators – Comair and Safair – both using the series, so pushing up domestic capacity.

Across all series, Cochabamba – La Paz was the largest airport-pair by seats.  Boliviana operated the 237-kilometre route up to ten-daily using the B737-300. 

Across these 30 routes, 27 were domestic, with – obviously – only three international: Minsk – Moscow Domodedovo (Belavia), Bogota – Caracas (AVIOR), and Minsk – St Petersburg (Belavia).

B737-300s B737-400s B737-500s
Top-10 routes Seats last year Top-10 routes Seats last year Top-10 routes Seats last year
Cochabamba – La Paz (Bolivia) 798,648 Cape Town – Johannesburg 700,263 Cuzco – Lima 409,922
Las Paz – Santa Cruz (Bolivia) 638,100 Cape Town – Lanseria 354,750 New Ishigaki – Okinawa (Japan) 356,958
Wamena – Jayapura (Indonesia) 396,344 Durban – Johannesburg 298,282 Arequipa – Lima 348,059
Brazzaville – Point-Noire (ROC) 329,356 Bishkek – Osh (Kyrgyzstan) 298,536 Abuja – Lagos 348,059
Minsk – Moscow Domodedovo 297,776 Cape Town – Durban 246,633 Sampit – Surabaya (Indonesia) 292,320
Cochabamba – Sucre (Bolivia) 267,240 Johannesburg – Port Elizabeth 227,272 Jakarta – Pontianak 265,200
Cochabamba – Tarija (Bolivia) 237,048 Cape Town – East London 189,420 Jakarta – Palambang 262,800
Luwuk – Makassar (Indonesia) 216,088 Bogota – Caracas 153,936 Bandar Lampung – Jakarta 262,800
Kendari – Makassar (Indonesia) 216,080 East London – Johannesburg 142,122 Almaty – Nur-Sultan (Kazakstan) 248,272
Beijing – Taiyuan 165,672 Durban – Port Elizabeth 133,604 Minsk – St Petersburg 247,720
Source: OAG Schedules Analyser. Countries provided where a route may be less well known.

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