Boeing 787 vs Airbus A350

Boeing 787 vs Airbus A350Boeing 777 vs Airbus A330, I hear a lot of questions in this vein.  Which is better?  Which flys further, higher, carries more passengers and which is the more advanced?

Airliners are like tools in a tool box which an airline can choose to use on routes appropriate to the traffic demand. Some routes are relatively short and don’t require airliners that have a long range, or ability to fly a long distance.  If the pair of cities being linked are large then there might be a demand for more frequent flights by smaller airliners rather than fewer flights by larger airliners.  This allows the airline to offer business travellers a wider choice of departure times which reduces time wastage waiting for inconvenient less frequent departure times.  At peak times a much larger airliner might be used to ensure maximum uplift of passengers at those times.

It is critical to an airline that they have the right tools for the tasks that they intend to undertake.

It is critical to an airline that they have the right tools for the tasks that they intend to undertake.  Like any business, airlines have to control expenses, so once again the right tool is essential.  This is why many airlines have a mixture of airliner types. These different airliners are used on routes that they are specifically designed for, and can perform the task with the minimum of overhead expense.

The Airbus A350 XWB takes off on its maiden flight on 14 June 2013 from Aéroport de Toulouse-Blagnac.

Let’s look at the two newest offerings from the top two airplane makers, Boeing and Airbus.  Both aircraft manufacturers have come out in the last few years with new models that are technological leaps forward.  The Airbus A350 XWB (eXtra Wide Body) and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  These two airliners represent the competition between Airbus and Boeing to have the best offering in the market.  But  mostly they represent the demands by their airliner customers for a more advanced and economical tool for their airliner tool box.  Economy is the driving factor.

Economy is the driving factor.

Particularly since the the 2008 doubling of the oil price, airlines have been looking for ways to reduce their fuel bill and therefore protect their margins.  On the other side of the equation, the proliferation of Low Cost Carriers has put downward pressure on airfares and airlines are having to ensure their aircraft are full in order to make sure they show a profit.

An Asiana Airbus A330-300 rotates for take-off at Sydney.

These two newest airliners employ new techniques such as the use of composite materials to reduce weight, single piece fuselage sections to  reduce the number of fasteners which once again reduces weight.  Weight reduction of course reduces the amount of fuel burn required to carry a payload from A to B.  Coupled with enhanced passenger comforts to make them more attractive to the travelling public, these airliners are setting the bar for the future of air travel.

Both the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 come in 3 variants.  This ensures that the models are a very versatile offering to the market and the same design can be used for many different scenarios.  This also highlights the fact that the giant twin engined jets are now the mainstay of passenger aviation.  We have seen the demise of the Airbus A340 which was a 4 engined version of the Airbus A330.  This was produced at a time when twin jets were still getting approvals for long over water flights, but with the present level of engine technology this is no longer an issue.  We may even see the end of the 747 and A380 if a recession hits as some would suggest.

remember that there are different variants of each airliner model

So, when we talk about Boeing 787 vs Airbus A350 or Boeing 777 vs Airbus A330, we have to remember that there are different variants of each of those models.  Let’s look at range to start with.  Obviously if an airline has long over water routes, then they will need airliners with a long range ability.  The economics have to add up as you may end up with a flying tanker with a few passengers on board.

In ascending order the maximum ranges of the largest of todays’ twin jet airliners.

Although we can see that Boeings’ 777 offers the shortest and the longest range, the airliner models are fairly evenly spread through the various niche markets as relates to range.  The Boeing 777X, which I have not yet included here, as design specs are only now just being finalised, will have a range of 17,220Km which is up there with the Boeing 777 200LR.

A Virgin Australia Boeing 777-300ER taxis at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport. These aircraft are used on the Australia to US trans-Pacific route.

So we know how far theses airliners can fly relative to each other, but unless we know what they can carry over that distance, the information is a little pointless.  So below we have a table to show the relative passenger numbers as well as the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) for each.

A list of the large twin jet airliners with their maximum take off weights (MTOW) expressed in kilograms and their maximum passenger numbers when configured in a typical 3 class configuration.

We can see here also that there are niches for each of the airliner models,  for each Boeing there is an Airbus offering that does relatively the same job and vice versa.  If you look at an aircraft that carries a heavier load you can go to the range chart above and it will probably have a lesser range, unless of course it is a specially built extended range variant.  You can also notice that for example the Boeing 777 200 and Boeing 777 200ER (Extended Range) carry the same amount of passengers, however the 777 200ER has a higher maximum takeoff weight.  This of course is to lift the additional amount of fuel that gives it the extended range ability.

This mix of attributes ensures that all niches in the Very Large Airliner (VLA) market are addressed.  Large capacity – short distance, large capacity – long distance, small capacity – long distance, small capacity – short distance.

Model and Variant
Range Passenger Capacity (typical 3
Maximum take off weight (MTOW)
Fuselage Length (metres) Wing Span (metres)
Airbus A330 200 13,430 293 233.00 58.82 60.30
Airbus A330 300 10,830 335 230.00 63.69 60.30
Airbus A350 800 15,700 270 248.00 60.54 64.75
Airbus A350 900 15,000 314 268.00 66.89 64.75
Airbus A350 1000 15,600 350 308.00 73.88 74.75
Boeing 777 200 9,700 301 247.20 63.70 60.90
Boeing 777 200 ER 14,310 301 297.55 63.70 60.90
Boeing 777 200 LR 17,370 301 347.50 63.70 64.80
Boeing 777 300 11,120 365 299.37 73.90 60.90
Boeing 777 300 ER 14,690 365 351.50 73.90 64.80
Boeing 787 8 15,200 242 228.00 56.70 60.10
Boeing 787 9 15,700 280 251.00 62.80 60.10
Boeing 787 10 13,000 323 251.00 68.30 60.10

The table above shows the different relationships between capacity, length and wing span.  In the case of the Boeing 777, the LR and ER extended range variants use additional wing size to enable higher lift as well as accommodating more fuel storage space.

To find out more details about each airliner type, click on the airliner name in the table above.

Thank you for taking the time to read about these airliners.  We would love to hear any comments you might have and any ideas to make this site more useful to you. These can be left below.

Boeing 747 8, are we falling out of love?

Our love affair with the Boeing 747 goes back 4 decades to those heady days of aviation when fuel was cheap and Juan Trippe and the boys at Pan Am asked Boeing to build them a much bigger airplane.  Never has an airliner captured the imagination of the public, appeared in so many movies and made travel possible as much as the venerable Queen of the Skies.  We have seen her grow through 5 main variants, the 100, 200, 300 400 and SP.

Of all these, the 747 400 has been the most successful.  We know her well with her stretched upper deck bubble and winglets.  Never a real beauty but certainly majestic, she was seen at every major airport in the world.  With 442 produced she was the flagship of many of the worlds airlines.

It has now been 10 years since the last 747 400 Jumbo jet was handed over to China Airlines.  A decade.  It is also a decade since Airbus entered the Jumbo airliner market with their A380 Super Jumbo.  Of course the A380 had been in development for many years already and perhaps it’s coming prompted orders for the 747 400 to diminish in anticipation.

Two Boeing 747 400s of Air France, one climbing out while the the other taxis.

So where was Boeing?  The 747 400 program was winding down, but it seemed like there wasn’t successor waiting in the wings to take over.  There were a few attempts at tempting the market with a fully two decker version and a few other variations, but nothing concrete that the market wanted.  As we know, in the end a significantly stretched version of the old 747 shape was decided upon and flew for the first time 5 years after the last 747 400 was delivered.  The Boeing 747 8 comes in two versions; the Boeing 747 8 Intercontinental and the Boeing 747 8 Freighter.  Boeing were hedging their bets by appealing to two arms of the market, just as they did with the first 747 which is why we have the bubble cockpit on top.  This allows a nose door to be installed for straight through cargo access to the main deck.

So, why are we falling out of love with our Jumbo?  Well, more particularly, why are airlines falling out of love? The correct question might be why haven’t airlines fallen in love with the Boeing 747 8?  Sales have  been very soft, certainly for the 747 8 Intercontinental, the passenger version.  But, let’s not think it’s all about Boeing.  Airbus have also been experiencing a challenge with their A380 sales, with not one new customer being added in the last 3 years.  They need to build and sell 30 aircraft a year to make it an economically viable product.  This challenge is further exacerbated by the fact that second hand A380s are starting to come onto the market with airlines like Malaysia Airlines and Thai International talking of selling some of their 3 year old aircraft.  This will seriously undermine the prices of new aircraft.

An Airbus A380 in flight in Dubai in November 2006.

So what are airlines doing about their long haul high volume routes?  It’s almost as if they are hedging their bets to see which way technology goes.  We know that the skies are starting to belong to the big twins.  Airliners such as the Boeing 777, Boeing 787, Airbus A350 and Airbus A330 are now becoming the main stay of many of the worlds airlines.  But still they seem to want a Jumbo in their fleets.

In the last few years we have seen major airlines like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Thai International and QANTAS to name but a few, go through major refurbishment programs on their 747 400s.  QANTAS for example has completed a $250 million program to update and upgrade the interiors of 9 of its 747 400s.  The selling point being, that now the 747 400 seats are just like those on their Airbus A380s.

So are airlines waiting to see what happens with the Jumbo market?  When you consider that the list per unit price for a Boeing 747 8 Intercontinental is US$357.5 million and the cost of an Airbus A380 is US$318 million it makes sense to spend $250 million and have 9 airliners.

It seems the end of the age of the Jumbo four engined airliner may be not far off.  Airbus and Boeing will pull the rug at some stage if they can’t sell them and concentrate on their cash cows; the Boeing 777, Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350 XWB.

We would love to hear your experiences travelling on a newly refurbished Boeing 747 400.  Do they feel new, do you feel this is money well spent by the airline?

The mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Where is Malaysia Airline MH370

Every year it seems the world is getting smaller with us humans taking up more and more space.  The feeling is, where can you go that is not crawling with people already, is there any wild unconquered territory anywhere anymore?

Contrast that with trying to find a huge airliner that we know has crashed into the sea.  The oceans are still vast and for the most part do not have their floors charted.  I am not just talking about MH370, but also Air France flight AF447 which crashed into the mid Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June of 2009.  Air France followed a logical route from Rio to Paris so the searchers had a a fairly good fighting chance of knowing where to look.  How long did that search take?  Two Years!  Two years of theories and counter theories before finally a result was arrived at.

The tail section of the Air France flight AF447 is found floating in the mid Atlantic.

So, back to MH370.  We all know the story inside out by now.  Well we have suffered through the theories, reports of sightings and satellite hand shakes.  In a few days it will be 18 months since the tragic accident that left behind anguished and frustrated relatives and friends of the victims.  What progress has been made in the search for the Boeing 777?

Millions have been spent by countries like Australia and China in the search of the Indian Ocean.  However, the biggest breakthrough has to be the discovery of the flaperon on a remote beach on the remote island of Reunion in the western Indian Ocean.  I must admit to being a doubter when I first heard the theory of the aircraft coming down in the Indian Ocean.  This was an area so far and completely in the wrong direction from the intended flight path that it made the whole idea seem fanciful and surreal.  I must admit to being skeptical right up until the time the flaperon was found.

The Malaysian Airliners Flight 370 flaperon is taken away by authorities on Reunion Island to be sent to Toulouse France for investigation.

I’m not an oceanographer but I couldn’t understand how an aircraft full of floating objects such as seat squabs, neck pillows and flotsam could disappear so completely.  I could not believe that a Boeing 777 could be easily be landed on water(assuming anyone was still alive to do so) in one piece.  Yes we know the story of Captain Sullenberger performing that amazing feat of landing his aircraft on the Hudson River, a truly remarkable piece of aviating.  The Indian Ocean is not the Husdon River and would rarely be calm enough to offer a perfectly flat surface.  The Boeing 777 has the biggest jet engines around, so they would be wonderful water scoops that would have the effect of ripping the wings off as they filled with forward motion arresting water.  My point is, the chance of the aircraft remaining intact and preventing floating objects from escaping seem to be very remote.

The French island of Reunion. A very remote part of the world.

Today (04 Sep 15) we learn that the French have confirmed that there are enough corresponding serial numbers on the flaperon  found in French ruled Reunion Island to be able to say it is from the doomed Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.   This is confirmation at least that MH 370 is to be found in the Indian Ocean somewhere.  Through reverse analysis of ocean currents and severe weather anomalies over the past 18 months, oceanographers and meteorologists now have a chance to try and pin down more accurately the final rest place of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.  Perhaps a saving grace is that the piece found was a heavier item that floated blow the water surface.  This means that the ocean currents would be the strongest governing factor in its journey, rather than the more volatile winds it encountered on its way.

We can only hope that with this new information questions can be answered to allow MH370 to be found.  For the sake of the loved ones who need closure.  For aviation itself, no accident or tragic event is ever left unsolved.   Not for curiosity but for fight safety.  Your ability to step onto a plane and give no thought to your chances of stepping off at the other end of the journey is a hard won expectation.  Every event is investigated to the finest detail to ensure these events never happen again.  One day we will know what transpired on MH 370.  One day we will know that those who tragically lost their lives on MH 370 will teach us a lesson that will help us save more lives in the future.

Please feel free to comment or leave your thoughts about MH 370.

Thank you