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Battle of the Big Jets: Boeing 787 vs Airbus A350

by Ankur Deo

The Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 represent the very best in innovation, ideas and cutting edge technology from their respective companies. Both these planes, how much ever different, are pretty much indistinguishable when it comes to the gargantuan impact they have had on the aviation industry!

Today, we look at these two aircraft that have revolutionised commercial aviation in their own ways; we shall focus on Why these aircrafts are so important, How do they stand against each other, and What position to they acquire in the market. We shall be comparing the largest of both aircraft– the Boeing 787-10 and Airbus A350-1000. The smaller Boeing 787-8 is more in competition with the A330neo, and hence, it won’t be fair enough to set it against the A350. While some may claim that the Boeing 777x is the right competitor to the A350, well, the 777x is yet to fly commercially, and hence, from operations point of view, remains out of picture for now.

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Image Credits: Airliners.net

Why these programs are significant?

During the late 1990s, Boeing considered replacement aircraft programs as sales of the 767 and 747-400 slowed. Two new aircraft were proposed – the ‘747X’ would have lengthened the 747-400 and improved efficiency, and the ‘Sonic Cruiser’ would have achieved 15% higher speeds while burning fuel at the same rate as the 767. In early 2000s, with increased petroleum prices, airlines were now interested in efficiency than speed. In response to the market reaction, the ‘Sonic Cruiser’ project was officially cancelled and Boeing announced the ‘7E7’ program, using the Sonic Cruiser technology in a more conventional configuration. In July 2005, the 7E7 was renamed as the 787.

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Image Credits: United

Airbus initially rejected Boeing’s claim that the 787 would be a serious threat to the Airbus A330. However, when airlines urged Airbus to provide a competitor, Airbus initially proposed the ‘A330-200Lite’, a fuel efficient A330 featuring improved aerodynamics. The company planned to announce this version at the 2004 Farnborough Airshow, but did not proceed. On December 10, 2004, Airbus’ shareholders approved the the A350 program, expecting a 2010 service entry. And thus, the A350 program was born!

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Image Credits: Airbus

These aircraft were an indication that the quad jets were no longer the key to thrive in an industry that was much more keen on efficiency. As geeks might say it, the hub-and-spoke model was about to be replaced by point-to-point model, and the A350 and B787 were leading the game!

How do they stand against each other?

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In a two-class configuration, the A350 can handle more passengers than the 787. Thus, if it’s the amount of passengers you can ferry, the A350 is the clear winner. However, if efficiency is point of concern, the 787 comes on top. The A350 definitely has the longer range, but the 787 simply utilises the fuel better. Last but not the least, the 787-10 costs $325m while the A350 costs $367m.

What does the market say?

The Boeing 787 has close to 1500 aircraft on order while the A350 has around 1000. As both aircraft were launched at nearly the same time, it can be seen that the industry prefers the 787. While longer distances and more passengers might suffice one airline’s demands (thereby, with the A350), medium haul flights with higher fuel efficiency might do it for others (with the 787).

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Singapore Airlines Boeing 787-10 at Changi Airport. Image Credits: Singapore Airlines

So who is the winner? Well, if you need to serve long range, A350 clearly stands out; if you are serving medium haul range with ultra high efficiency and lower cost of operation, the 787 is your plane! It is indeed intriguing to see airlines using both planes by utilising one’s strengths to combat the other’s weaknesses. A classic example of this would be Singapore Airlines (SIA). SIA operates 32 A350s and 13 787s. What is peculiar is the way SIA uses these two aircraft in tandem to maximise their profits. Same goes with Vietnam Airlines!

What do you think? Which of these two is your favourite, let us know in the comments!

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