Skies of Scale: The Largest Passenger Jets in the World

In the annals of aviation, the evolution of the world’s largest commercial jets stands as a testament to human ingenuity and the relentless pursuit of pushing boundaries. From the Wright brothers’ first heavier-than-air plane to today’s behemoth Boeings and astonishing Airbuses, the quest to build the world’s biggest passenger plane continues.

Building Big Engineering
2 February 2024

At their core, the largest passenger jets in the world are a physical representation of the constantly expanding boundaries of science and engineering. Their design and operation involve a complex interplay of physics, materials, and aerodynamics, coupled with rigorous safety standards and environmental considerations. They’re equipped with state-of-the-art technology to ensure efficiency, comfort, and safety, making air travel not just feasible but also a crucial means of transportation for millions of passengers worldwide.

Humankind first became airborne in powered aircraft over a century ago, in December 1903. Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina lasted twelve seconds at a speed of seven miles per hour. It covered thirty-seven metres, less than the wingspan of a modern jumbo jet. Today, the world’s largest commercial jets are far cry from the Wright Flyer.

The development of the world’s biggest passenger plane underlines the collaborative efforts of thousands of engineers, scientists, and aviation experts. Its existence is both a symbol of technological achievement and a reminder of how far technology has advanced since the Wright brothers first took to the skies.

The contenders for the largest passenger jet in the world can be measured by a number of different criteria, including length, wingspan, or seating capacity. This article is using maximum take-off weight, or MTOW.

MTOW, is the maximum weight at which a pilot is allowed to attempt to take off, due to structural or other limits set by the aircraft manufacturer. It includes the plane itself, as well as the passengers, crew fuel, and cargo.

Here are the largest passenger jets in the world, as ranked by MTOW.

Embraer E195-E2

Embraer E195-E2 (Credit: VCG / Contributor via Getty Images)

Wingspan: 33.7 metres | Capacity: 146 | Cruise Speed: 517 mph | MTOW: 62 tonnes

Embraer is a Brazilian aircraft manufacturer and while the E195-E2 isn’t the largest passenger jet in the world, it’s a key player in the regional jets market, alongside the Airbus A320neo and Boeing’s 737 MAX.

The 195 is the largest of the E2 jets, with a service ceiling of 41,000 feet (12,000 metres) and a range of approximately 5,000 km, or 3,100 miles.

Tupolev Tu-214

A newly built Russian Presidential plane Tupolev Tu-214 (Credit: Mikhail Svetlov / Contributor via Getty Images)

Wingspan: 41.8 metres | Capacity: 210 | Cruise Speed: 528 mph | MTOW: 110 tonnes

The Tupolev Tu-214 is a Russian-made plane and one of the largest commercial jets in the world. The twin-engined aircraft is essentially a heavier version of the Tu-204 and entered service in 2001.

It has a range of around 4,300 km (2,700 miles) and is believed to be the official plane of the Russian president.

Boeing 777-300ER

A United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER (Credit: Thierry Monasse / Contributor via Getty Images)

Wingspan: 64.8 metres | Capacity: 386 | Cruise Speed: 554 mph | MTOW: 351 tonnes

The ER, or ‘Extended Range’ version of the 777-300 is the world’s biggest twin-engined passenger plane and one of the largest commercial jets in the world. It has a range of almost 8,500 miles (13,650 km) and the plane’s GE90-115B turbofans are believed to be the world’s most powerful jet engines.

The first wide-body 777-300ER was delivered to Air France in April 2004, and the plane has a service ceiling of 43,100 feet (13,136 metres).

Airbus A340-600

Airbus A340-600 (Credit: Etienne DE MALGLAIVE/Contributor via Getty Images)

Wingspan: 63.5 metres | Capacity: 475 | Cruise Speed: 541 mph | MTOW: 380 tonnes

The Airbus A340-600 is the biggest, heaviest and longest of the A340 variants, and is over three metres longer than the A380-800. Designed to compete with the Boeing 747, it entered service in August 2002 with Virgin Atlantic and has a range of almost 14,000 km, or around 8,600 miles.

The four-engined wide body plane is one of the world’s largest passenger jets and has a fuel capacity of a staggering 204,500 litres.

Boeing 747-8I

Lufthansa - Boeing 747-8i. (Credit: ullstein bild / Contributor via Getty Images)

Wingspan: 68.5 metres | Capacity: 467 | Cruise Speed: 564 mph | MTOW: 448 tonnes

The Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Jet’ is perhaps the most iconic plane in the history of commercial flight. The first 747 entered service with Pan Am in 1970 and since then there have been dozens of variants of what was once the largest passenger jet in the world, including the famous 747-400, the VC25 – otherwise known as Air Force One – and the SCA, or Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, modified to carry the Space Shuttle.

The final version of the 747, known as the 8I (I for Intercontinental), began service in 2012 and was reported to be the heaviest Boeing airliner built to that point. As well as being one of the largest commercial jets in the world, it’s also among the longest, at 76.25 metres.

Airbus A380-800

Singapore Airlines Airbus A380-800 (Credit: SOPA Images / Contributor via Getty Images)

Wingspan: 79.8 metres | Capacity: 853 | Cruise Speed: 561 mph | MTOW: 575 tonnes

Not only is the Airbus A380-800 the world’s biggest passenger plane by MTOW, it’s also the heaviest, has the longest wingspan, and has the largest passenger capacity. It’s a staggering feat of engineering.

The world’s only full-length doubled-decked passenger plane, it has a range of 14,800 km, or 9,200 miles, and a service ceiling of 43,000 feet (13,100 metres). It entered service in October 2007.

The announcement that the A380 project was to be discontinued came in 2020, and the 251st and final plane was delivered a year later. Note: Airbus made 254, but three were used as test planes.

The Aviation Apex: The World’s Largest Passenger Jets

Airbus A340, one of the world's largest passenger jets (Credit: / Contributor via Getty Images)

The world’s biggest passenger plane and the pretenders to its throne is a spectacular showcase of achievement in aerospace engineering. These airborne leviathans are not just triumphs of technological prowess but also symbols of our collective ambition to connect and explore, whether for business or for pleasure. They embody a century of aviation evolution, from the pioneering flights of the Wright brothers to the ultra-efficient, sky-taming giants of today.

But what does the future hold? Are we going to see even bigger planes with 150 metre wingspans and 1,000 tonne take-off weights with 1,500 passengers on board? Or have we already seen the biggest commercial jet in history?

The future trends in aircraft design are expected to lean more towards smaller, more efficient planes rather than larger ones.

The industry’s shift toward smaller, more efficient aircraft appears to be driven by several key factors: the need for greater fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility, rapid advancements in technology, evolving market demands, and the necessity for operational agility. Additionally, the physical limitations of major airports around the world play a significant role. Although there remains a market for larger planes, particularly for routes with high demand, the overall trend in aircraft design is increasingly moving towards more compact and fuel-efficient models.


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