Flying has become somewhat mundane and sometimes lacks variety. Flying on one Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 is much the same as another. The interiors, sights, sounds and onboard service is much the same on all of them.
It doesn’t have to be an airline that we fly on. From a plane spotting perspective, we enthusiasts like to see something different to log or photograph. This cold include cargo carriers.
So we often look to airlines that are still flying older, rarer or more unusual aircraft, or flying in and out of interesting airports and, to experience something different.
This list covers what we consider to be the 25 most interesting airlines for aviation enthusiasts.
Boasting such classic types in its fleet as the Ilyushin Il-18, Il-62 and Il-76, Tupolev Tu-134, Tu-154B2 and Tu-204, Air Koryo is the go-to airline for seeing and flying on these rare types. But it’s not that easy. North Korea is a closed country and you need to be on an arranged tour to get in and fly there. But, if you can stomach the regime, it should be on any aviation enthusiast’s radar before it’s too late.
Scotland’s own airline, Loganair has an expanding route network across the British Isles and into Europe. Most interesting, however, are its domestic and public service links around remoter parts of Scotland, such as the world’s shortest scheduled service between Westray and Papa Westray, and the beach airport on Barra. It is one of only two airlines to fly the DHC-6 Twin Otter in the UK.
Ukraine’s privately owned regional and domestic carrier has become a target for enthusiasts in recent years. It sill operates a fleet of Antonov An-24, An-72 and An-140 (the only operator of the type), plus Yakovlev Yak-40, which have been fairly easy and cheap to fly on (see my trip report here).
Sadly they have reduced the number of routes they serve, so you’ll need to plan a little better to get a flight.
Probably one of the world’s most famous airlines thanks to its popular Ice Pilots TV show and its continued use of World War II veteran piston airliners in its work. These days they sadly don’t fly scheduled passenger services, but if you visit their Yellowknife or Red Deer bases you’ll see types like the Douglas DC-3, DC-4, Curtiss C-46 Commando, Lockheed Electra and many more in daily operation in the familiar green and white livery.
Everts Air Cargo
Most enthusiasts know that if you head to Anchorage and Fairbanks in Alaska, you’ll be treated to some heavy cargo movements and even some old piston and jet types. Chances are you’ll see Everts Air Cargo flying. Their fleet includes the Douglas DC-6, Curtiss C-46 Commando, Douglas DC-9 and McDonnell Douglas MD-80. So, cameras at the ready to catch these classics in flight!
Norway’s domestic and regional airline has been going strong since 1934 and serves most of the country’s remote airports hidden in valleys, fjords and up in the Arctic Circle. Widerøe flies the older DHC-8-100 and -200 variants, as well as the -300 and -400, and brand new Embraer 190-E2 jets. You can spend a day flying around the country on these remote routes, which is great fun.
Iran’s national carrier is stuck partially in the past thanks to sanctions. While it managed to take delivery of newer Airbus A321, A330 and ATR 72 types, sadly restrictions resumed before it could fully upgrade. Therefore you’ll also find it flying older types like the Airbus A300, A310, Fokker 100 and McDonnell Douglas MD-82 still.
This quite large regional airline based at Irkutsk in Siberia, eastern Russia has an eclectic fleet of different types of aircraft. It ranges from the Antonov An-24 and An-26 right up to the Boeing 777-200ER. In the middle you’ll find Bombardier CRJ200s and Sukhoi Superjet 100s, and soon the airline will be the launch customer for the Irkut MC-21-300 airliner. The 17 An-24 and An-26 aircraft it owns are flown on local services.
Serving the tiny population of ice-bound Greenland, Air Greenland manages to operate a long-distance link with the homeland via an Airbus A330 route to Copenhagen. It also serves its remote communities with a fleet of DHC-8-200s. It will soon take delivery of an Airbus A330-800neo.
The national airline of Cuba has a mixed and varied fleet. It includes the Tupolev Tu-204, and the Ilyushin Il-96-300. In fact, it is the only scheduled operator of the latter, and is even expected to one day take delivery of the Il-96-400. These rare beasts are normally sent to Madrid, Paris and Moscow, so there’s a chance you can fly or photograph them fairly easily.
This might be a conservative, boring option to many. But looking at it in terms of spotting potential American Airlines has a lot to offer. They have the world’s largest aircraft fleet, giving you the most aircraft to see. Sadly their older McDonnell Douglas MD-80 fleet has now gone.
It does, however, include a fleet of aircraft in heritage liveries from its past, such as Piedmont, Allegheny, TWA, Reno Air, America West and CalAir.
Based at Grand Bahama in the Bahamas, Flamingo Air is a regional airline which links many of the smaller islands. It is one of the only airlines still flying the Beechcraft 99 in airline service.
Canadian NorthAnother airline serving Canada’s remote communities. Canadian North has the world’s largest active fleet of Boeing 737-200s, flying scheduled and charter services out of Edmonton, Iqaluit and Yellowknife. They often land on unprepared gravel strips!
ANA All Nippon Airways
One of Japan’s two main airlines, ANA probably has the most interesting range of special liveries in the region. It includes a fleet of ‘Star Wars jets’, or aircraft painted to represent characters in recent Star Wars movies. It also has a colourful fleet of Airbus A380s painted to represent flying turtles!
This US airline continues to go from strength to strength. No longer the underdog, it is now paving new ways to success and competing against the big boys. It recently took delivery of its first Airbus A220, which is noteworthy in itself. It will soon also start transatlantic flights with its new A321neoLR’s. Plus, most of its aircraft have different tail schemes, with many special livery aircraft and logo jets to spot. Always something interesting for the camera!
Another large Iranian airline. Could Mahan Air be the last operator of the Boeing 747-300? No one really knows as they haven’t been seen active for a while. But they could be. And even if not, this airline has a wonderful mix of airliner types including the Airbus A300, A310, A340-300 and -600, and BAe 146.
New Zealand’s remote Chatham Islands group’s dedicated air carrier still flies commercially with three Convair 580s. They have been used regularly on the link from Auckland to the islands, but predicting the schedule is difficult. The airline also has a Douglas DC-3, Fairchild Metros, Saab 340s and other wild and wonderful types in its fleet.
Starlux AirlinesOnly founded in January 2020, Starlux Airlines is already taking the aviation world by storm. With a modern fleet of Airbus A321neo, plus A330neo and A350s on order, it has plans for world domination. Based at Taipei Taoyuan, Starlux hopes to eventually serve eight US destinations.
African Express Airways
Probably the world’s last operator of the Douglas DC-9 in scheduled passenger service. You can find these, and some other interesting types, on use throughout East Africa and even flying into bigger hubs like Dubai.
Alliance AirlinesAlliance is one of Australia’s most interesting airlines. Flying scheduled services and links to support mining operations in the country, this carrier has the largest active fleet of Fokker 70s still in existence, as well as Fokker 100s and a growing number of Embraer 190s. It recently signed a deal to fly the latter on behalf of Qantas Link.
One of Africa’s most interesting national carriers. TAAG serves Angola, and has had a up-and-down history, being banned from the EU for a while. Today it operates a more modern fleet, including Boeing 777-200ER and -300ER aircraft which are deployed to Portugal, Brazil, Cuba and around Africa.
One of the world’s largest airlines, and the largest freight carrier, FedEx Express is also interesting to the enthusiast for flying some older planes. For the time being, at least, as many are actively being retired in favour of newer types like the Boeing 767-300 and 777-F. Still present in its fleet are Airbus A300, Douglas DC-10 (or MD-10) and McDonnell Douglas MD-11 freighters. FedEx also has a huge network of feeder carriers around the world, flying smaller commuter aircraft types, and will be the launch customer for the new Cessna 408 SkyCourier.
Another of Russia’s regional carriers flying routes in and around Siberia. If you can get out there (no easy task), you’ll find the chance to fly on Antonov An-24 and Yakovolev Yak-42D aircraft. They are based at Izhevsk Airport.
Bamboo AirwaysA new carrier set up to challenge the dominance of Vietnam Airlines. Bamboo Airways is based at Hanoi, Saigon and Phu Cat airports and flies a growing mix of Airbus A320/A320neo family, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and Embraer 190/195s. It serves mainly leisure routes, and has a colourful and modern livery.
While we’d never recommend flying on this airline or visiting Venezuela in its current political state, this is one airline that it’s always interesting to see. This is thanks mainly to its interesting fleet – including the world’s only passenger-carrying Airbus A340-200 (as well as a -300), VIP configured Boeing 737-200, and more modern types like the Embraer 190 and Cessna 208. It has an interesting livery, and widespread network covering the Caribbean, South America, Mexico and even as far as Moscow and Tehran.
Which do you consider to be the most interesting airlines to aviation enthusiasts, and why? Leave a comment below!