"And just on that- how is possible to get the exact sub series of, say a 747? Eg- Qantas operate not just a 747-400 but a 747-412 (I think) Where do you get that info?"
To answer your question further, and to add to what B757200 wrote, it depends on the manufacturer.
The last two digits, as B757200 says, denote the original customer for the aircraft (i.e. the airline whose negotiations with Boeing resulted in that airframe being put on the production line.) It does NOT necessarily denote the airline to which the aircraft was delivered new (in the case of a few Virgin 747s, for example.) http://www.airlinecodes.co.uk
will give you a complete list of all Boeing's airline codes.
The last two digits depend on the actual variant of the series, rather than the customer. The penultimate digit depends on the engines powering the airliner, and take the following codes:
0 = GE
1 = CFM
2 = P&W
3 = IAE
4 = RR
6 = Engine Alliance (for A380)
(I don't believe there's a 5 - I asked why this was in the Tech/Ops forum but no reply has yet been posted.)
The final digit, I think, corresponds to the actual engine variant, rather than just the manufacturer, powering the aircraft. So, for example, an A321-211 and an A321-213 are both A321s, powered by CFM engines, but with slightly different versions of the engine.
Airbus's codes remain the same regardless of the ordering airline.
As for your question regarding Airbus starting with the -800 series for the A380, I think ConcordeBoy has it correctly... it's a matter of prestige, and to follow the '8' theme from the A380.
(edited for spelling)
[Edited 2004-10-12 02:57:46]
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