A long, long time ago, when I was a young child, I read in a book or magazine that the 747 weighed 170 tonnes (or whatever) - but that the manuals it came with weighed even more! (I recall the same article explained that the aircraft contained over 100 miles of wiring; it was that kind of article.)

I can well believe that the total amount of technical documentation (design, production, operation, maintenance, etc) associated with an airliner could weigh more than a hundred tonnes.

But, just how much documentation would actually be delivered to the customer? Could it indeed be 170+ tonnes' worth?

  • $\begingroup$ Let's imagine 170 tons = 120 tons of paper + 50 tons of covers/binders. With 120 tons of paper we can make 24 millions A4 sheets of 5 g. So 170 tons would represent 48,000 books of 1,000 pages. Let's say we have 4,800 technicians producing the books, each one being specialized in some domain, they need to author/assemble 10 books of 1,000 pages per person. That's a lot. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 7:07

1 Answer 1


But, just how much documentation would actually be delivered to the customer? Could it indeed be 170+ tonnes' worth?

The days of delivery of air carrier aircraft technical manuals being delivered by paper manuals are over, so it's certain that 170 tonnes of paper aren't now delivered. Whether or not, if you printed one copy of every manual available and then weighed them, that would reach 170 tonnes per airplane, I have no idea. That sounds a little high though to me, but if you included the weight of all of the engineering paper generated back when they actually produced blueprints, that would certainly be very substantial.

Boeing, as an example, delivers manuals as PDFs, perhaps by other means as well.

A few points:

  • The carrier gets what they need, and that will vary greatly. For example, if the carrier is receiving a passenger airplane, there's no need for them to have documentation concerning pallet tie down information for the aircraft's main deck.
  • Manuals need to be updated, and now you just get an current PDF rather than a few pages to be inserted in paper copies you already have.
  • Individual airplanes get manuals that are customized for that airplane, so you're talking about a lot of different manuals for a model of aircraft.
  • If the airplane goes through a modification program, the company doing the modification will typically supply manuals (also digitally) that deal with the modification. This is especially true for older passenger aircraft being converted to freighters.

Boeing supplies sample manuals for information expected to be common across variants of a model. Here's a 767-300F sample manual link. Of course, the information in an airplane's individual manuals takes precedence over that in sample manuals.

Perhaps if you printed every copy of every manual of every update, maybe you would get to the weight of a single aircraft of that model.


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