Why does the second floor of the Boeing 747 occupy only part of the plane, while the second floor of the Airbus a380 occupies the entire space of the plane?

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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? Could the Boeing 747's 'hump' be improved aerodynamically? $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Apr 21, 2020 at 3:43
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    $\begingroup$ The suggested dupe does not address the question, why not extend the hump farther back. There may be a question on here that answers that, but the suggested question isn't it. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Apr 21, 2020 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ @JeanExtreme002 - I know that answering "Because the A380 is bigger" is not useful, but I do wonder what motivates your question. I mean the airlines want bigger planes for some routes, but have to fit super jumbo planes into the same tarmac footprint as regular planes: they can't go longer or wider, so they have to go taller... $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Apr 24, 2020 at 2:33

3 Answers 3


The basic design of the Boeing 747 was originally developed to for the US military's CX-HLS program for a large cargo aircraft. One of the main requirements of the program was for cargo to be loaded from the nose, and placing the cockpit above the main cabin made this possible. The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy was selected, but Boeing carried the same features over to the 747.

In the 1960s when the 747 was being developed, some believed that supersonic aircraft would be taking over the long-haul travel market. The relatively short "hump" was retained not for extra passenger capacity, but so that if the passenger market dried up, they could keep producing the aircraft for the cargo market.

Boeing did extend the "hump" further back to add capacity on passenger versions, first on the 747-300 (and later retrofitted to a few -100 and -200 planes), and again on the 747-8I. Extending the second deck all the way back would create too many major changes to the structure and aerodynamics of the airplane, essentially making it a completely new model. Boeing did study a full double-deck model to compete with the A380, but opted to focus on a smaller, more fuel-efficient market with the 787 instead.

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    $\begingroup$ Wow, I would never have thought they would actually change existing planes to extend the upper deck. This must have been massive work... $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Apr 21, 2020 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ In particular, Boeing was among the people who believed the supersonic aircraft would be taking over the long-haul market. They were developing the Boeing 2707 at the same time as the 747. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Apr 22, 2020 at 6:23

According to Joe Sutter, the chief designer of the 747, his team came up with the concept of a wide body as an alternative to a double decker. More efficient use of the available volume, and faster emergency egress. It took some selling, and several mockups, to persuade Pan Am to accept this new and radical design.

The 747 was initially conceived a stopgap effort in the mid 1960's, expected to be overshadowed by the 2707 SST under development. As such, it was modified for use as a cargo aircraft, by moving the cockpit above the main cabin, to facilitate a front opening nose for rapid cargo load/unload. The thinking was - when the 2707 came out, they could still use the 747 for cargo, where high speed wasn't required.

The fairing was added behind the cockpit for aerodynamics, and the extra space used for passengers. Originally, Sutter's plan was to have crew quarters there, to which Juan Trippe of Pan Am replied - Hell no. We're putting paying passengers there.

When the SST was abandoned due largely to skyrocketing fuel costs, the 747 was front and center as the first large airliner to make use of the more efficient high bypass turbofans, lowering fuel usage at a time when fuel costs had gone through the roof.

Why didn't they extend the upper cabin through the entire fuselage, as the A380 did?

The requirement for 400+ passengers from Pan Am was met by the widebody design.

Remember that when the 747 debuted, the typical international airliner (707, DC8) carried 150 passengers. So it was already a huge leap. Even more would have stretched the engineering challenges considerably, when the customer wasn't asking for that.

  • $\begingroup$ "Originally, Sutter's plan was to have crew quarters there, to which Juan Trippe of Pan Am replied - Hell no. We're putting paying passengers there." To be fair, the crew quarters (for the flight crew) are there, too, between the flight deck and the passenger cabin. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Apr 22, 2020 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ Fascinating posts here. I bet the marketing idea that the upper deck is superior, super first class, played in to things over time too. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 22, 2020 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ Was the SST really abandoned due to fuel costs, or was it because few countries would let it be flown supersonic over land? After all, at that time air travel was pretty much limited to the prosperous, thus the term "jet set". $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Apr 23, 2020 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ In the end, the Boeing SST was abandoned due to fuel costs. Arguably, it was also abandoned because it was too ambitious: Mach 3 with swing wings. When supersonic airliners were conceived in the early 60's, jet fuel was in the $.30/gallon range. Calcs were a 25% rise in fuel prices would make it too expensive to operate. After 1973, fuel costs went up by over 100%. The Concorde came out because most dev was paid for by 1973... it was a prestige item, but not economically successful. No orders outside of two flag airlines, and it never returned the dev costs, let alone a profit. $\endgroup$
    – tj1000
    Apr 24, 2020 at 10:37

The 747's cockpit was raised for a different aviation market. The "hump" was extended aft to improve its aerodynamics. Back then a dual-deck airliner was being considered to maximize passengers, but it would have been too heavy. But that was no longer the case for the A380.


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