Airbus A380 Boeing 787 Comparison Essay

The A380 vs. the 787? The Whale Jet vs. the Dreamliner? Who wins this fascinating battle between the two most talked-about aircraft models in the sky. Both have their strongpoints and both have their weaknesses.

The A380 “Super Jumbo” typically costs around $414m per unit. It rises to 80ft in height, has a 21.5ft cabin width on the main deck and 19ft on the upper deck, and has a whopping 261ft wingspan. It can accommodate a maximum of 853 passengers in a single class configuration or, more likely, 644 passengers in a 2 class configuration. The Airbus A380 can reach a maximum speed of 634mph (Mach 0.96) and has a range of 9,755 miles. Some airlines think the A380 is too large and too heavy for their needs, so Airbus are responding by building a lighter version, which has a significantly reduced maximum flying range, but will use much less fuel, making it more economical for airlines to operate.

The B787 Dreamliner typically costs around $211m per unit. It rises to 55ft in height, has an 18ft cabin width, and has a 197ft wingspan. It can accommodate a maximum of 381 passengers in a 2 class configuration. A more recent variation of the 787 can accommodate up to 440 passengers and has a maximum loaded range of 9,550 miles, whereas the original variant can fly just 9,030 miles. The B787 Dreamliner has a maximum speed of 593mph (Mach 0.90). While not designed to be a direct rival to the A380, the 787 nevertheless competes with the A340 and A330 members of the Airbus family. That said, many aviation enthusiasts identify the B787 and the A380 as being the two newest and most spectacular aircraft in the sky, so comparison is inevitable.

Relatively few airlines have placed orders for the very expensive Airbus A380, and aside from Emirates, who by far and away have the largest fleet of A380s anywhere in the sky, most airlines are taking things very steady with this aircraft, as the size of it means that airlines will be expected to carry up to 500 passengers per flight in order to cover costs, and in this economic atmosphere, there are very few routes on which this is now possible. Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines in particular have big problems utilising their A380s properly, and it could be argued that neither actually need all 6, as 3 for each of them would be sufficient (for their ultra longhaul flights to Paris and London respectively). It remains to be seen if the troubled Virgin Atlantic will ever actually purchase their A380s despite making an order many years ago. Etihad and Qantas still have the majority of their A380 orders yet to be delivered, whereas it seems Thai, Malaysia, Korean Air, Lufthansa, and China Southern have already completed their spending.

It is interesting to see that to some of the more obscure airlines in the world, such as Icelandair, Royal Brunei, Biman Bangladesh, and Air Astana are investing quite heavily in the B787. Being a much cheaper aircraft than the A380, it allows airlines such as those aforementioned to concentrate on high density routes that may not have been in range on older aircraft such as the B777 or the A330. It’s really cool that Air Niugini of Papua New Guinea have ordered a solitary aircraft. Of course, the big players in the aviation industry like British Airways, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, and Air France have purchased many B787s themselves in addition to their existing fleet of A380s, so they must be very confident they can utilise them on profitable routes.

One of nicest liveries of the A380 must belong to Qatar Airways, who are expected to begin flying with their Whale Jet in October between Doha and London. Qatar Airways also are a major player with the B787, being one of only 10 airlines to place orders for both. Air New Zealand did not place any orders for the A380, but they do have a very sexy looking livery on their new 787 Dreamliner. Black looks very sleek on thin aircraft like the B787. Please read my analysis of the various liveries on the Dreamliner for more information.

So let’s look at some of the features of the Airbus A380:

One of the benefits of flying on such a large plane is that you cannot feel any mild turbulence. The plane is simply too big and too bulky to be bothered by a bit of “light wind”, so your journey should always be a smooth one on the A380. The sheer scale of the Airbus A380 allows for the airlines flying it to customise it to their own desire. Theoretically, over 800 passengers could fit onboard at any one time, although so far no airline has shown a willingness to do this. Aside from the benefits of the much spacious upper deck, which in itself is a novelty for most people when flying and even requires a separate air bridge over which to board, you can also have self-service bars and lounges in the premium cabins, where you can sit and chat to other passengers or just sit and relax with a glass of champagne as you glide through the clouds! Some airlines, such as Emirates, have really changed the aviation industry for the good with their A380 Shower and Spa, which is available only to first class passengers. Emirates are the only airline to offer passengers the opportunity to have a shower and maybe even receive a massage in the air – for no extra charge! Singapore Airlines have double beds in their A380 first class cabin, which could be construed by some as a great way to join the Mile High Club!

There are plenty of unique design features of the B787 Dreamliner, although it is difficult to show them in pictures. However, one of the biggest design facets of the 787 is the upward curved wingspan, which reduces drag and gives a smoother ride. Also built in to the design of the 787 is a unique filtration system that is said to eliminate (or at least reduce) bacteria and odour in the cabin air, which is a godsend if you’re sitting next to a smelly passenger! The windows on the 787 are also around 30% larger than on other aircraft, and these windows have LED shades that can replicate the sunrise and sunset. These are found all over the aircraft, including in the economy cabins, and are said to reduce jetlag for all customers. Another important feature of the B787 Dreamliner is that the cabin pressure is different to other aircraft in the sky. On the 787, the cabin is pressured to 6000ft, which is 2000ft lower than normal, and this helps the body absorb over 8% more oxygen. So, it is clear that most of the unique design features of the B787 Dreamliner are intended to give its passengers a much smoother and more comfortable flight, and this is why so many airlines are purchasing it for their fleet.

I have been lucky enough to fly on the A380 on numerous occasions, including twice in first class (once with Emirates and once with Singapore Airlines)! I have also flown on the B787 Dreamliner a couple of times, including, again, once in first class with Qatar Airways between Delhi and Doha. Personally, I love the fact that there’s an upper deck on the A380, and where possible, I always try to book myself an economy class seat in the solitary upper deck cabin (not all airlines have an economy cabin on the upper deck). This is the big game changer for me – being able to sit higher off the ground and know there’s another cabin beneath you is a great feeling! The B787 Dreamliner has its benefits too, though, with the entire aircraft designed to give you a smoother ride and to reduce the effects of jetlag upon disembarkation.

Who knows what the future holds for these two amazing aircraft models. The orders for the Airbus A380 have slowed down now, whereas the more versatile B787 Dreamliner seems more popular at the minute. Airlines can fly new routes with the 787 that existing aircraft could not allow them to manage due to maximum range limitations. Yet the prestige of owning the A380 “Super Jumbo” simply won’t go away and there is no sight quite like seeing this behemoth landing on the runway before your eyes! It’s almost as though the other aircraft turn around on the tarmac to watch it happen themselves!

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In the world of airlines, the competition has never been higher than it is today. With so many brands and airlines covering different parts of the world, it’s incredibly difficult to distinguish just who is the top dog in the industry these days. Whether you prefer the economy offers of cheaper airlines, or you like to fly luxury and really take in all that modern technology can offer when it comes to airlines, the choices out there for people who love to take to the skies in an aircraft is simply incredible. However, some names stick out.

For example, both Airbus & Boeing are hugely popular names within the industry, and the reasons are so varied that actually choosing who is the best out of both is a long, drawn out process that usually just comes down to opinion. However, we want to take a more close-end look at the aircraft and what they can provide each user with, as well as landmarks for both companies that make them the hugely impressive aircraft providers that they are today. Intense marketing and aggressive advancements in aircraft technology has led both companies to the very top – who wins though?

To start with let’s take a little look at the history and nature of both businesses to see where they came from, and their evolution;

Boeing

In March of 1910, William E. Boeing bought the Heath shipyard located in Seattle. This was to be the first location of the very beginnings of Boeing as an airline company, and by 1917 they were known as the “Boeing Airline Company” and had already produced the B&W Seaplane range. After the end of the First World War, the cost of used planes drastically plummeted, providing Boeing with a serious logistical challenge.

Priced out of the market in favor of old war aircraft, Boeing instead started to sell furniture and other household products, instead.

However, this change in tactics helped to keep Boeing afloat and by 1919, the Boeing B-1 was completed and indeed had made its first flight. A useful mail aircraft, it was the very first plane to fly over the Mount Rainer.

The most well known Boeing aircraft, the 747

This incredible start to life as an airline only served to push Boeing further up the market, and had created an incredible wealth of aircraft come the 1930s with the Boeing 80 and 80A becoming hugely popular on the markets. The Boeing 247 was the first “modern” style airliner, and it was much faster than any other passenger aircraft out there at the time – it also offered far greater flight safety than other planes could. A change in the way that airlines and manufacturers were allowed to operate forced William Boeing out of the airline totally, and he sold his shares. This was not the end of Boeing however.

Following a post Second World War blip where more than 70,000 people lost their jobs, the company stabilized and by the 1960s the modern airline industry was a whole new world with various models of high-end airliners flying through the skies of the world. For example, the production of the Boeing 727 was the first commercial aircraft to reach 1,000 sales, and this was a sign of a civilization that was beginning to rely more on aircraft than ever before.

The Boeing 737, however, is the best-selling commercial airline jet in aviation history. Still being produced as of 2014, it’s a hugely popular model and ranks today as one of the most commonly improved aircrafts as well. The 60s were hugely profitable, but the Vietnam War caused significant damage to the profits of Boeing. At the same time, the Project Apollo project was nearing completion, as well.

After the difficult 1970s, the Boeing Company recovered and started to get more involved in military projects, with help on the B-2 Stealth Bomber, as well as the Avenger Air Defense systems. This signaled a huge change in intent from the company as it moved into a whole new territory. The 80s and 90s proved to be a change entirely for the company as it started to try and differentiate itself to fight off competition from the ever-growing Airbus.

By the 1990s, they were involved with the creation of military aircraft like the F-22 Raptor. Boeing, in the 90s, also became the first airline company to make an aircraft entirely from using computer aided design. This plane was the Boeing 777, and was hugely popular due to its unique form of design. Ever since, Boeing has been a key player within the military airline markets, although the 2000s has seen the first indications that Airbus may be closer to taking control of the market than people may have thought.

Airbus

Formed as a consortium in Europe to compete with the big American lines like Boeing and Lockheed, Airbus recognized that the power of the American Air Force in the Second World War, as well as the vast size of the US, had helped propel the nation to the pinnacle of airline technology. Therefore, Europe needed an answer – and this was to be known as Airbus.

Having offered the logistical improbability of, at the time, creating a low-cost airline that could propel up to 100 people to medium distances at quick speeds, Airbus was at first deemed fanciful. It was widely accepted by many of the governments involved in the Airbus ideal that perhaps the notion was not quite achievable by using European standards – and instead, Europe-wide collaboration would be needed.

The most well known Airbus aircraft, the A380

British & French governments started to work with German engineers to try and create the right future for the future of European airlines. In December 1970, the Airbus Company was formed. Over the years, other countries have become involved like Holland and Spain. The first developed aircraft by Airbus was the Airbus A300. By structuring design facets to different nations, it made it much easier to complete projects of vast size by splitting up the workload and maximizing expertise on specific parts of the aircraft.

In 1972, the A300 first took to the skies. It entered service by 1974, although it was hampered by the release of Concorde at the same time. However, in 1979 the consortium had sold more than 250 orders for the A300, and it was now working on the A310. It was the creation of the A320, though, that established Airbus as a major player in the markets, with more than 400 orders placed before the aircraft even took to the skies.

This has been the typical model for Airbus ever since, concentrating on creating huge innovations in the market rather than small, incremental changes. The Airbus A380, for example, is the largest passenger jet in the world and was first launched in 2007. It’s a company that concentrates on the grand rather than anything else, and it was in recent years started to move ahead of Boeing in specific parts of the airline industry.

This is an incredibly important maneuver within the airline industry, as it has helped create far more competition and inspired other airlines to get involved in the process, too. Creating a fairer and more balanced, less US-centric airline market has changed the entire industry.

The Battle

The competition between Airbus and Boeing has been going on for many years now, and is seen by some as one of the most engaging and interesting duopolies out there in any industry. Because the jet airliner aircraft is pretty hard to break into for newer brands due to the length of time that both companies have been the biggest draws, there’s no surprise to see that both Airbus & Boeing have established themselves as two of the only shows in town. While the likes of Lockheed try and break through, it’s very unlikely they will ever actually do so.

Much like many professional sports leagues, the gap in infrastructure between the “Big Two” and the rest is almost insurmountable, and would take an incredible amount of poor decisions from both companies over a sustained period to damage the impressive market gap that they both hold today. So, what can we actually take from the battle between Boeing & Airbus? Who is winning?

If you take a ten year period, starting from 2004, then the differences is extremely marginal. Airbus has made just fewer than 9,000 orders with 8,933 in total, while Boeing has received fewer orders at 8,428. However, in terms of actually delivering the finished project Boeing has completed 4,458 of its lot while Airbus has provided 4,824 of its orders.

It’s almost neck-and-neck in terms of percentages, and the competition has over the years become increasingly bitter. Both companies accuse the other of receiving government and state aid to fuel their own growth on the market and to try and force themselves to be number one. What started out as a series of mergers across the airline world has seen one of the most intriguing corporate battles witnesses in the last century.

The Aircraft Themselves

Most importantly, of course, is the quality of the aircraft. Boeing and Airbus are famed for their versatility and both provide huge amounts of different aircraft that can be totally different in terms of range, quality, speed and capacity. Therefore, the aircraft can be quite hard to differentiate from one another. One thing is for sure, though, and that is that the Airbus A380-800 is the largest passenger plane of all time, carrying just less than 650 passengers on any given flight. The closest that Boeing has, in comparison, is around the 550 mark. While the rest of the planes are usually quite comparable, when it comes to the “top” brands in each company’s arsenal Airbus come out on top.

While Boeing has more aircraft styles that can carry more people, with 5 aircraft that can carry more than 400 people, Airbus has just 3. Therefore, Boeing certainly wins at the moment in terms of providing the best variety of sizeable planes. Again, though, when it comes to the speed range the fastest plane is the Airbus A350-900R. This is quicker than any aircraft that Boeing has to offer, sitting at around 9,500 nautical miles.

However, across time there has been some rather interesting duels in the skies, albeit not literally. During the 1990s, the creation of the Boeing 747 and the A380 respectively created a huge battle on the marketplaces. The A380 was a double-deck aircraft, while the 747 was the largest aircraft in operation of its time. When it came to long distance flights, these were the preferred choices and made an incredibly important part of the first major skirmishes that both airlines came into against each other.

Depending on who you ask, you will get a different answer as to who won these “wars”. Therefore, it’s hard to tell what airline actually provided the better service – with only very limited independent, un-sourced analysis providing any kind of legitimacy to the debate.

The Main Differences

One of the biggest differences between the companies is how they operate, not how they fly. While technological differences are common among the aircraft and the actual design process varies massively, the way that both companies are run from behind the scenes varies massively as well. The relationships that airliners hold with other nations plays a huge part – especially when it comes to the manufacturing and improvement of their technology.

For example, Boeing is famed for its relationship with Mitsubishi and Kawasaki, who provide them with a lot of help for specific jets like the Boeing 787. Outsourcing is quite a large part of the Boeing mantra, and today they strategically outsource projects to countries that can offer them something back in return.

Airbus UK Technology Campus

Airbus, by contrast, doesn’t tend to have as much outsourcing due to the already diverse make-up of the firm. However, they did work with China for the production of A320 in the late 2000s. In terms of significant investment into outsourcing, though, it’s all Boeing.

Technologically, both companies come with a huge array of facets that they can use against one another. For example, the A300 was at the time the most extensively created aircraft ever from composite materials, and also was one of the first to use automation for engineer function. They were also the first to bring in fly-by-wire controllers for an airliner, in the A320.

However, the Boeing 787 Deamliner was the first to use only 50% composite materials for the creation of the aircraft – reducing weight and improve efficiency to an incredible level. In comparison, the closest Airbus have got to this is 53%. Therefore, even the technological advantages of both are quite minimal and they are really at the same level when it comes to an overall means of technology – it just depends who trumps the other in the short-term!

When it comes to the most important part of airlines, safe flying, both has long been hugely competent companies. We couldn’t possible call out one or the other for lacking safety, as both have always taken immense pride in their safety. While both have had infamous problems like the Boeing 787 suffering from battery problems or the fatal crashes involving the Airbus in the early days of the company, today they are the most stable airlines available for any passenger.

The Verdict

One of the most important things to remember is that both companies are incredibly distinct. One is a hugely modern company that tries to follow every trend going and is relentless in its pursuit to be liked. The other is talented but was fashionable a decade or four late to the party – they are both the absolute example of modern business. Everything is about PR and the image, and making sure that they make the competition look as bad as their new releases make them look good. The arrogance found within the airline industry is pretty easy to spot – but the verdicts on who is the best airline to back really should be left in the hands of those who matter. This is, of course, those who take to the skies in the first place.

With both companies constantly gesturing to the other that they are in fact the dominant party, listening to either talk themselves up is completely counterproductive. Instead, turning to those who have used both aircraft or flown both aircraft will get to give you a far more detailed idea of who is actually the best airline.

While the idea that you get Boeing and Airbus loyalists who have refused to use the other airline in the past, especially when it comes to pilots themselves, it’s no surprise that there are preferences. This is not like a political party decision, though, and many pilots are more than happy to use both if they have to. The main thing that a pilot will look at is how the assigned flight contracts will interfere with their own life, not the type of plane they are taking to the skies in – it’s trusted that regardless of what you fly, it’s going to be pretty good.

Airbus vs. Boeing artwork

While many people will make their decisions based purely on how they felt during the flight itself or what the general opinion was of each model of the plane they have tried, creating definitive opinion on this subject is rather difficult. It would take an immense technical explanation of the differences and nuances between every circuit in the cockpit and every rivet in the body of the planes provided by both Airbus & Boeing. However, you do hear some very opinions back from experts who have sampled both.

Because the majority of Airbus aircraft have a flight control system that provides a lot of manual input from the crew, it’s usually considered to be the more “controversial” of the two companies not to mention there more chequered history. However, the majority of serious Airbus problems were in the early years of the company – if you look at Boeing, they have similar teeth problems without the same level of competition around them.

Also, it’s very easy for planes to have hugely varying specifications and styles – and you might find that a specific Boeing feels more like an Airbus you have used before, and vice versa. The changes from plane to plane make it even harder to work out who is the best out there – the majority of the time, it comes down to circumstances.

While many people put a lot of faith in a specific airliner “handling” better than the other, for most pilots this is absolute nonsense. Again, one Airbus might handle totally different to the next, and feel far more like a traditional Boeing – the changes are far too advanced for typical flight users to need to understand or want to!

Because you can’t really compare an aircraft in the same way that you would compare a traditional car, it’s really hard to come up with a general verdict for everyone. Really, if you feel like you have to make a choice based on the best airline for you, then the idea way to do that would be quite simply in all honesty – take a small look into the stats and history a little further than this article can, especially into the airline you “prefer” and see what one has the more balanced history in terms of the type of aircraft you like. Do you prefer speed? Power? Precision? Size? Comfort? These are the type of decisions that your favorite aircraft should be made upon, not the brand.

The massive differences and bitter battles between the two airline giants is quite staggering to watch for many people, and only adds to the incredible levels of whataboutery that both companies are willing to go to. In the end, they are two extremely impressive industries that provide so many features over one another – Airbus has the technological standpoint at the moment and the momentum is definitely with them, but they are considered to be more out there than Boeing. Whatever you decide to fly with, you can be sure that it should be one of these two titans of the skies.

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