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The Airbus A380 vs Boeing 747 – What Plane Is Best?

Many had believed that the A380 was to be the killer of the famous Jumbo Jet, the Boeing 747. But the retirement of the A380 program and freight sales of the Boeing 747 continuing to climb has shown otherwise.

But when both aircraft were at their peak, which was best? The fully loaded 800 seater A380 (in a terrifying all economy configuration) or the long-range 747 with a private cabin on board?

One airline is actually choosing between these two aircraft right now, as a stopgap measure before the next generation aircraft come online.

United Order

United retired the B747 in 2017. Photo: United

How will we be comparing the two aircraft?

First, we will be looking at official statistics from both Boeing’s and Airbus’s websites. We will be comparing the latest version of each, the Boeing 747-8 and the latest version of the Airbus A380-800.

Additionally, we will pretend that we are an airline looking for a large capacity aircraft for both passengers AND cargo. Whilst it goes without saying that a Boeing 747 freight variant would easily beat an A380 (as an Airbus cargo variant was never built) we will try to remain fair and imagine that we are primarily a passenger airline first.

We will be looking for the best flexibility and the most cost-effective. Whilst some aircraft might make a better customer experience (quieter engines, better cabins etc) we will try to focus just on the statistics on paper. Additionally, we will assume that both are just as easy to fly as each other.

Airbus vs Boeing

Airbus vs Boeing superimposed on top.

Let’s begin!

Airbus A380 vs Boeing 747

Variant747-8A380-800
Cockpit crewTwoTwo
Capacity410 in 3-class555. 22F + 96J + 437Y
Exit limit605853
Cargo Volume6,225 cu ft (176 m3)6,190 cu ft (175.2 m3)
Length250 ft 2 in / 76.3 m238 ft 7 in / 72.72 m
Height63 ft 6 in / 19.4 m79 ft 0 in / 24.09 m
Wingspan224 ft 7 in / 68.4 m261 ft 8 in / 79.75 m
Wing554 m2 (5,960 sq ft), sweep 37.5°, 8.45 AR845 m2 (9,100 sq ft), AR 7.53,
sweep 33.5°
Cabin width20 ft (6.1 m)21 ft 4 in (6.5 m)
MTOW987,000 lb / 447,700 kg1,268,000 lb / 575 t
OEW485,300 lb / 220,128 kg611,000 lb / 277 t
Max. payload167,700 lb / 76,067 kg185,000 lb / 84 t
Fuel capacity63,034 US gal / 238,610 litres85,472 US gal / 323,546 litres
426,109 lb / 193,280 kg 559,937 lb / 253,983 kg
CruiseMach 0.86 (493 kn; 914 km/h)Mach 0.85 (903 km/h; 488 kn)
MMoMach 0.9 (516 kn; 956 km/h)Mach 0.89 (945 km/h; 511 kn)
Range8,000 nmi (15,000 km) 8,000 nmi (14,800 km)
Ceiling43,100 ft (13,100 m)13,100 m (43,000 ft)
Engines (4×)66,500 lbf (296 kN) GEnx-2B67332.44–356.81 kN (74,740–80,210 lbf) GP7200 / Trent 900

For the sake of simplicity, we have not discussed the width of the upper cabins on both aircraft.

Airbus vs Boeing

The upper deck widths of both the Airbus and Boeing aircraft side by side.

Passengers

Without a doubt, the Airbus A380 smokes the 747 right out the gate with passenger capacity. But that’s because it was designed nearly 35-40 years after the Boeing 747 took flight and Airbus knew exactly on what metric to beat them. The addition of so much extra cabin space on board can also mean the A380 has room for bars, showers, lounges, and full private suites. Plus, in a full economy configuration, the A380 can handle 250 more passengers than the 747.

Winner: Airbus A380

Emirates was well known for their lavish A380s, including an onboard bar! Photo: Emirates

Cargo

Cargo is actually a very lucrative source of revenue for airlines, and our airline is no exception. Looking at cargo capacity, the Boeing 747 actually has more capacity on board despite having less powerful engines and less thrust. Airbus has leaned hard into serving passengers and let Boeing slip ahead. Plus we do have to admit that there exists a cargo version of the Boeing 747 that is very popular.

Winner: Boeing 747

Airbus A380F

The Airbus A380F was supposed to carry 150 tons of cargo with a range of 5,600 nm. Photo: Airbus.

Range and fuel capacity

In a shocking first for Simple Flying, both aircraft have almost the same range. Let’s look at fuel capacity instead. Straight away you can see that the Airbus A380 burns through just over 20,000 more US gal’s than the Boeing 747. This is due to the extra 150 or so passengers on board. Logically, these passengers would actually offset the extra fuel cost to fly the same distance and allow the Airbus to be more profitable.

Winner: Airbus A380

Airbus A380 in flight

Airbus A380 in flight via Unsplash.

Wait what about fuel efficiency?

Ah yes, just because the Airbus has more fuel doesn’t mean that its any cheaper to run. Let’s look at the below graph.

Fuel

This graph keeps on giving. Seriously, I’ve used it every time I’ve done a VS article.

As you can see, the Airbus is better than the Boeing 747-400 (the aircraft it was designed to beat) but further iterations of the Boeing 747 actually are far more efficient (and cost less money per passenger). Thus…

Winner: Boeing 747

Boeing 747

The 747-8 looks great on paper!

Which aircraft is more popular?

Let’s look at how the market reacted to both of these aircraft and see if a pattern emerges. We will look at the lifetime of both aircraft.

Boeing 747 orders: 1,548 (Since first flight in 1968, 30 per year)

Airbus A380 orders: 313 (Since first flight in 2007, 26 per year)

…Oh right, and the A380 was canceled. Thus it’s pretty clear that even from a popularity point of view the Boeing 747 was more popular. But that may have been from it being a proven aircraft with nearly 40 years experience on the A380.

Winner: Boeing 747

Qantas

Qantas 747 comes in to land in Perth Airport.

What about the cost?

Here is the list price for each aircraft:

Airbus A380 – $445.6 million

Boeing 747-8 – $402.9 million

The Boeing 747 is actually cheaper to buy and cheaper to operate. It might be smaller in terms of passenger capacity, but in a world where passengers want smaller aircraft that fly point to point, is that $45 million extra really worth it (that’s almost $300,000 per extra passenger, which you will need to make over the lifetime).

Granted if the A380 had been popular enough to reach higher production capacity, the price might have fallen. But we don’t live in that world.

Lastly, it’s likely that Airbus would have price matched the 747 for any customer (as they are known to do).

Winner: Boeing 747

British Airways 747

British Airways 747

Which is best?

To this author, the A380 was the realization of a dream. A giant floating village that could fly across continents with entertainment, lounges and more. But the world moved on. Passengers today look for smaller airlines that can fly from their regional airport to another regional airport, and giant flying laputas just don’t have a place anymore. If an airline can fill up an entire A380, then it can be a huge profit driver but that is becoming increasingly rare.

Winner: Boeing 747

It’s for this reason that the smaller capacity 747 just seems to win out. But it is a hollow victory, as night is setting on the Jumbo Jet. The new aircraft (The Boeing 777x and the Airbus A350) almost match capacity but with massive improvements in design, cost, and fuel efficiency.

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