The world’s best-selling airplanes

Editor’s Note: Sign up for Unlocking the World, CNN Travel’s weekly newsletter. Get news about destinations opening and closing, inspiration for future adventures, plus the latest in aviation, food and drink, where to stay and other travel developments.

CNN  — 

Size, energy efficiency, cargo and passenger load, comfort and cost. There are a lot of factors involved in making an airplane design appealing to airlines and, in turn, their customers.

But which are the best-selling civil airplanes of all time, and what made them stand out from the rest? Let’s take a look at the top eight, based on total deliveries as of December 31, 2021.

8. Airbus A330

In production: 1992 to present

Deliveries so far: 1,527

The wide-body A330 went into service 28 years ago this month, and was conceived by its European manufacturer Airbus as a successor to the A300 – the world’s first twin-engine wide-body plane.

The 63.66-meter long A330-300 was the first variant, with capacity for up to 440 passengers, and a versatility that meant it was suitable for both short-haul trips and long-range distances of up to 6,350 nautical miles.

It was followed by the smaller-scale A330-200, and then later the two “neo” craft, the A330-800 and A339-900, both with revolutionary curved wingtips.

Read more: When the A330-900neo was introduced in 2018

7. Boeing 747

In production: 1968 to present

Deliveries so far: 1,527

Affectionately known as “Queen of the Skies,” the four-engine 747 was the first wide-body plane and the original “jumbo jet.”

It entered service in 1970 with legendary airline Pan Am and soon became synonymous with the glamorous age of international travel. Since 1990, it’s been the US presidential choice, with the Air Force One fleet comprising two customized 747-200Bs.

In recent years, many airlines have been replacing their passenger 747s with bigger, more efficient twin-engine planes.

Boeing expects to deliver the last ever jumbo – 747-8 Freighter – to customer Atlas Air later this year.

5 things you didn't know about the 747
01:05 - Source: CNN

Read more: Five ways Boeing’s 747 jumbo jet changed travel

6. Boeing 777

In production: 1993 to present

Deliveries so far: 1,677

The twin-engined “Triple Seven” isn’t as humungous as the Queen of the Skies, but at nearly 64 meters in length the long-range wide-body is still longer than seven telephone poles laid end to end and can accommodate 440 passengers.

It was the first jetliner to be wholly designed by computer and the first Boeing aircraft to have weight-saving, computer-operated “fly-by-wire” controls.

It’s now a growing family of eight variants, with the extra-large 777X aircraft – the 777-8 and 777-9 – the newest additions. The much-delayed 777X-9 is projected to enter service in 2024 while production of the 777X-8 has yet to begin.

5. Boeing 727

Read more: Boeing’s huge 777-9X airplane takes its first flight

In production: 1962 to 1984

Deliveries: 1,832

This mid-sized plane, with a T-shaped tail and three rear-mounted engines, had range for transoceanic flights but was also versatile enough to land on short runways at smaller airports.

Boeing’s original plan was to build just 250 of the craft, but it would go on to be the first commercial airplane to reach the 1,000-sales milestone.

In one of aviation’s greatest unsolved mysteries, in 1971 a man known as D.B. Cooper hijacked a 727 in the northwest United States before parachuting to the ground with $200,000 of stolen cash strapped to his body.

The audacious escape was only possible because an early design quirk of the 727 meant that the rear door could be opened mid-flight.

The Boeing 727 jet airliner makes its debut in 1962.

Read more: Boeing’s famous trijet 727 makes last commercial flight

4. Bombardier CRJ

In production: 1991 to 2020

Deliveries: 1,945

Regional jets are smaller planes, usually with fewer than 100 seats, that are designed for short-haul routes. The Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet family is the best-selling of its kind.

Canadian manufacturer Bombardier launched the program with the 50-seat CRJ, which was certified in 1992, before expanding with the 70-seat CRJ700 in 1997, the 86-seat CRJ900 in 2000 and the 100-seat CRJ1000 in 2007.

The last of the popular short-hop jets was delivered to Utah-based SkyWest Airlines in February 2021.

A Bombardier CRJ-900LR operated by Delta Airlines takes off from JFK Airport in 2019.

Read more: How a beginner plane-spotter can ID commercial jets

3. Airbus A320

In production: 1986 to present

Deliveries: 10,176

This is where the competition starts to get serious. Airbus delivered its 10,000th A320 last summer and, if we were basing this list on orders as well as deliveries, the A320 overtook the Boeing 737 as the 21st century’s most popular plane back in 2019.

The first A320 entered service in March 1988 and the twin-engine single-aisle craft has clocked up more than 280 million flight hours in the years since.

Variants include the A318, A319 and A321, while the A320neo family was introduced into service in 2016.

An Airbus A320-232 operated by JetBlue takes off from JFK Airport in 2019.

Read more: Airbus A320: A global, short-range single-aisle workhorse

2. Boeing 737

In production: 1968 to present

Deliveries: 10,877

The Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 are the aviation stalwarts that most of us will have flown in on many, many occasions.

The narrow-body classic has been traversing the skies for more than half a century, and the improved Next-Generation civilian version was produced from 1996 to 2019.

However, the much-publicized problems with the fourth-generation 737 MAX, which was involved in two fatal accidents in 2018 and 2019, have damaged Boeing’s reputation and profits.

RENTON, WA - NOVEMBER 13: A worker stands under a Boeing 737 Max airplane as it sits parked at the company's Renton production facility on November 13, 2020 in Renton, Washington. Boeing has announced new cancellations of orders of the plane as it readies for approval to fly it again. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
Boeing 737 Max planes pulled from service for electrical fix (2021)
00:44 - Source: CNNBusiness

Read more: Boeing’s 2021 was starting off pretty well – until its latest 737 MAX woes

1. Cessna 172

In production: 1968 to present

Deliveries: 45,000 and counting

While the 737 and A320 are the world’s top passenger jetliners, the plucky little four-seater Cessna 172 is the most successful civil aircraft in history, with more than 45,000 of them reported to have been built.

Its primary use is as a training plane, and generation after generation of pilots have cut their teeth in them. The high wings on this single-engine craft give pilots better visibility, making it easier to get their bearings on the world around them and also to land.

The large cabin doors make it simple for trainees and instructor to hop in and out, meaning that this is a popular design classic that’s endured.

An American Flyers Pilot Training School instructor and student taxi in their Cessna 172 single-engine plane in Illinois in 2002.

Jack Guy and Howard Slutsken contributed to this report.