Comparing and measuring airlines can be done in numerous ways: from such objective numbers like profitability, destination count, complex indicators like Available Seat Kilometers (ASK) or Revenue Passenger Kilometers (RPK) to subjective or purchased measurements like passenger experience or star ratings. However, one figure can definitely tell the size of an airline – the size of the fleet. Without aircraft, an airline is not really an airline, no matter how hard the company tries to tell the world otherwise (looking at you, Baltia Air Lines!).

Nevertheless, as the year ends, a question on everybody’s mind remains – who were the biggest carriers in 2019, as the year ended?

5. China Southern Airlines – 626 aircraft

China Southern Airlines is currently the largest airline in Asia and one of the biggest carriers in the world in terms of fleet size. The state-owned airline, founded in 1988, operates a wide variety of aircraft: from its smallest planes, like the Airbus A319 or the Boeing 737-700 to being in one of the most exclusive airline clubs, the Airbus A380 operator club. China Southern Airlines, as of December 1, 2019, flies 626 jets, according to planespotters.net data. Operating 3,000 daily flights to 224 destinations and 40 different countries, the Chinese carrier has established itself as one of the biggest airlines in the world.

While most of its destinations are located in Asia, China Southern Airlines‘ aircraft can be seen in such cities as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Rome, San Francisco and many other global metropolises.

4. Southwest Airlines – 748 aircraft

The exclusively Boeing 737 operator, using the plane type ever since the company’s first flight in 1971, apart from a brief stint with the Boeing 727 in the 1980s, ends the year with 748 jets. Sadly, the carrier was one of the most affected airlines by the Boeing 737 MAX crisis, as Southwest Airlines has 280 firm MAX jets on order. In the airline’s latest financial results report, the Dallas Love Field (DAL) based carrier has noted that it expected 41 new deliveries of the MAX in 2019. Now, Southwest expects seven aircraft deliveries to come in Q4 2019, while the rest would be pushed back into 2020.

Currently, it has 34 737 MAX aircraft stored due to the groundings.

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Reportedly, Southwest Airlines is looking to acquire Airbus aircraft, as a result of the 737 MAX crisis. However, this makes little-to-no sense for the Dallas-based low-cost carrier, here is why:
 

3. United Airlines – 789 aircraft

Tracing its history back to 1926, the full-service carrier is one of the lucky few to survive the aftermath of two major events in the United States aviation industry – the 1978 deregulation act and the aftermath of September 11 attacks, despite it declaring bankruptcy on December 9, 2002. Nevertheless, United survived the headwinds and managed to grow to be one of the biggest airlines in the world after the merger with Continental Airlines in 2010.

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One of The Big Three US airlines, United, ended the year with 789 aircraft, average age of 15.7 years. The Chicago based airline recently increased its order backlog with a deal for 50 Airbus A321XLR aircraft announced on December 4, 2019.