Airbus A220 vs Boeing 737 – Which Plane Is Better?

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The Boeing 737 is one of the world’s most successful aircraft types. If you have flown anywhere it is more than likely you have been on the globe’s most widely used jet, with just under 15,000 units being ordered over the last fifty years. However, it looks like another contender has come to take Boeing’s crown, the Airbus A220.

SWISS A220
The Airbus A220 has the potential to be a narrowbody powerhouse by the time this decade is over. Photo: Getty Images

Airbus previously rolled out a competitor to the Boeing 737, the Airbus A320, and has had plenty of success in the market. However, this new jet could sneak in and cause a major upset against the industry giant.

Just like in our previous articles where we prove which is better, the Boeing 777x vs Airbus A350 and 787 Dreamliner or Airbus A350, we are looking for either a clear winner on how each jet has a distinct performance over the other in various categories.

Airbus A220-100
The Airbus A220 made its first flight in September 2013. Photo: Airbus.

Why are we comparing these two planes?

The Airbus A220-300 is fairly new on the market and incorporates other design principles not found in other Airbus planes. It was originally designed by Bombardier in Canada (previously called the CS series), they have different expertise, materials, technology and more.

Plus, as the icing on the cake, Boeing previously tried to embargo the A220 from being sold to carriers. So, now it is personal between the two narrowbody jet aircraft

S7 Boeing 737-800 medical emergency
The Boeing 737 has had many years to adapt to the market amid several changes in requirements within the industry over the decades. Photo: Getty Images

How are they selling?

Recently, Delta Air Lines has been taking on its first A220 aircraft. Moreover, the Atlanta-based carrier will have plenty more in the skies this decade. This progress will follow up with JetBlue’s upcoming first delivery of the jet. Altogether, there are currently 639 orders for the type.

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The Boeing 737 absolutely destroys those numbers with just under 15,000 orders. However, with several decades over the newcomer, it is hardly fair to compare the two when it comes to sales.

Which two planes will be tested?

Naturally, there are over a dozen different 737 variants, and two (and a half) A220 models. In the principle of fairness, we will be looking at the most popular Boeing 737-800 vs the A220-300, based on having almost equivalent passenger numbers.

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There is, of course, bigger and small variations of both, from smaller A220s to bigger 737s.

We will be comparing them to several different items found in the list below. We will take the perspective of an Airline looking for the most band for their buck. This means whilst an airline might have a cool feature (Like the big windows on an A220) it does not directly lead to more profit thus will not be included.

Let’s get to it!

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SWISS introduced them Airbus A220 in July 2016.
SWISS introduced the Airbus A220 back in July 2016. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons

Boeing 737 vs Airbus A220

737-800

Cockpit crew: Two

Seating, 2-class: 160

Seating, 1-class: 175

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Overall length: 102–138 ft (31–42 m)

Wing: 112 ft 7 in (34.32 m)

Overall height: 41 ft (12 m)

Cabin width: 139.2 inches (3.54 m)

Fuel capacity: 20,100 L

Cargo capacity: 882–1,373 cu ft, 25.0–38.9 m³

Cruise speed: Mach 0.82 (473 kn; 876 km/h)

Takeoff Runway: 2,290–2,650 m

Max range: 5,765 km

Engines (2×): CFM56-3 series

Maximum thrust: 20,000–23,500 / lbf 89–105 kN

737-800 grounded
Southwest Airlines operates a fleet of solely Boeing 737 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

A220-300

Cockpit crew: Two

Seating, 2-class: 130

Seating, 1-class: 160

Overall length: 127 ft 0 in / 38.7 m

Wing: 112 ft 7 in (34.32 m)

Overall height: 37 ft 8 in / 11.5 m

Cabin width: 129.0 in / 3.28 m

Fuel capacity: 17,213 L

Cargo capacity: 1,116 cu ft / 31.6 m³

Cruise speed: Typically Mach .78 (447 kn; 829 km/h)

Takeoff Runway: 6,200 ft / 1,890 m

Max range: 6,297 km

Engines (2×): Pratt & Whitney PW1500G

Maximum thrust: 21,000-23,300 lbf / 93.4-103.6 kN

airBaltic A220-300
airBaltic currently holds 23 Airbus A220 units within its fleet. Photo: Getty Images

Comparing the basics

Passenger Seating

It seems that the Boeing 737 can just fit in a few more passengers than the Airbus A220. More paying passengers, more revenue.

Winner: Boeing 737

A possible stretch in the future might make the Airbus A220 more competitive, but it remains to be seen if it would encroach on the Airbus A320 business.

Cabin Size

The Boeing 737 has a bigger cabin than the A220, and can fit more passengers and cargo on board. the A220 is five seats across and the 737 is six seats across. It’s only 10 inches wider and thus room enough to get a win.

Winner: Boeing 737

Seat Size

Surprisingly, there are reports that the newer 737’s have smaller seats than the A220. In an effort to cram as many people on board the 737 as possible, the A220 comes out ahead, with one inch wider seats, and up to two inches more in pitch (In Economy). However, this is up to the airline and it’s not fair to rate a plane based on their fit out.

Winner: Draw

Cargo Capacity

The Boeing 737 has more cargo capacity on board due to being a bigger plane. This is fairly tight, however, there is a clear winner.

Winner: Boeing 737

Speed and Cruise

Turns out, the bigger plane can actually fly significantly faster. We did not expect this going in but the Airbus is rather slower than the Boeing 737. Fast speed means more turnarounds and more flights in a day.

Winner: Boeing 737

flydubai 737-800
flydubai presently only has Boeing 737-800 aircraft within its holdings. Photo: Getty Images

Range

However, here is where Airbus A220 takes the fight back. The Airbus jet has a range of approximately 500 more kilometers than the Boeing 737. This means hundreds of more routes and way more versatility when it comes to route planning.

Winner: Airbus A220.

Takeoff Runway

The smaller plane requires a shorter runway. This is no surprise but does mean the Airbus jet could fly to more airports than the Boeing 737.

Winner: Airbus A220

American 737
It is such a close call to when comparing these initial specifications, but the Boeing 737 just about edges the Airbus A220 here. Photo: Getty Images

Let’s talk about Fuel Efficiency

You may have noticed that the Airbus A220 carries far less fuel than the Boeing 737 and that the range of the Airbus is significantly more. This is evidence that the Airbus A220 is far more fuel efficient, and thus may actually be far cheaper to run than any Boeing 737. This would make Airlines far more attracted in buying the A220 over the Boeing 737 as the price of fuel goes up.

The A220 has been designed to be a considerably fuel-efficient jet. When taking into account the number of fliers on board, the efficiency is advertised by Airbus at 120 miles per gallon (MPG). Compared to other planes in its class, this outstrips almost every other model by a great deal.

When it comes to fuel burn, the A220 was marketed to achieve 20% better fuel burn than similarly sized planes. In reality, the A220-100 can achieve 9.1lb/mile on a short (500 NM) flight, and 10.1lb/mile on longer flights. Meanwhile, the -300 has been recorded to achieve between 10.11lb/mile and 11.01lb/mile. This figure is lower than any other jet with a similar capacity. Altogether, these factors will give considerably environmental and cost savings. 

Winner: Airbus A220

Airbus A220, Recovery, Perfect Aircraft
There are significant pull factors when it comes to efficiency for the Airbus A220. Photo: Getty Images

What about cost?

Now, if we were an airline and wanted to buy one of these jets, which is the better deal?

Boeing 737: Between $51.5 million and $87 million, on average (as of 2018)
A220 / CS300: $89.5 million (as of 2018)

The Boeing 737 is significantly cheaper, that you can actually buy two (with discounts) for the price of one A220. That may instantly negate any fuel savings made by an airline. This is simply because Boeing has a mass production line that produces hundreds of these planes a year. Airbus and Bombardier would need a similar setup (and similar orders) to even compete with their A220.

Winner: Boeing 737

Caribbean Airlines Getty
The price is right with the Boeing 737 when it comes up against the Airbus A220. Photo: Getty Images

Which is the better plane?

As with all answers to this question, it depends what you want the jet for. If you are flying larger amounts of passengers rapidly and need a reliable and versatile jet, that has a proven record and is cheaper to buy, then the Boeing 737 is the way to go.

However, many airlines actually lease planes and may not care about how much it costs, but which is cheaper to run. This is the A220, with its bigger range and fuel efficiency makes it an excellent contender for the Boeing 737 killer.

If Airbus can make a A220-500 version that could seat 160-200 passengers, and get the price low enough, then Boeing would be very worried indeed.

Delta Airlines A220
Several airlines have recently been taking on the Airbus A220 as the aircraft has often be hailed as the narrowbody plane of the future. Photo: Getty Images

Why not compare Boeing 737 MAX 8 vs Airbus A220

Many readers might ask why don’t we compare a new plane (A220-300) with Boeing 737 MAX 8. After all, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 has the advantage of new technology, new engineering and has an equal astonishing large amount of orders (Over 4,000 for the 737 MAX varieties).

However, the above principles still very much apply. The newer 737 MAX 8 can hold up to 210 passengers, flies a little further in range than the A220 (In the order of a few hundred kilometers) but requires 7,000 more liters of fuel to do so. It’s a bigger plane and would be more appropriate to rival the A320 rather than the A220. The A220 is cheaper to run…but the newer Boeing 737 MAX 8 (and MAX 10) may have enough extra passengers on board to justify the extra fuel.

boeing 737 MAX branding getty images
The Boeing 737 MAX has been the center of attention over the last few years amid its well-publicized controversy. Photo: Getty Images

A changing climate

The global health crisis has absolutely rocked the aviation industry from top to bottom. Subsequently, there has been considerable shifts in passenger demand.

Many airlines are struggling to fill in aircraft amid strict travel restrictions and transitioning social habits. As a result, capacity, which is a leading factor of the Boeing 737, may not be a significant factor over the next year or so. After all, we are seeing many larger aircraft being grounded or retired at a rapid rate.

virgin-australia-boeing-737-getty
The current pandemic is having a significant impact on the aviation industry across the globe, and many carriers are struggling to adapt to the new conditions. Photo: Getty Images

What the airlines say

Altogether, what really matters when choosing a plane is what the prospective customer thinks. For instance, according to a press release seen by Simple Flying, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes highlights the A220’s range and monetary capabilities as key factor to why his company took on the plane. The businessman states that it compliments his airline’s fleet perfectly.

Hayes said the following:

“The impressive range and economics of the highly efficient A220, combined with the outstanding performance of our existing fleet of Airbus A321 and restyled A320 aircraft, will help ensure we deliver the best onboard experience to customers and meet our long-term financial targets as we continue disciplined growth into the future,”

Meanwhile, here is what former SilkAir chief executive Leslie Thng said in a press release when the airline took on its first next generation Boeing 737-800

“The new Boeing 737 aircraft will support our network expansion plans. The transition to an all-Boeing fleet will enable us to efficiently serve more destinations, fly longer routes and increase capacity on existing routes.”

passengers watch A220-300 airBaltic at Riga International
It is still early days in the history of the Airbus A220 as the Boeing 737 has five decades of experience on its counterpart. Photo: Getty Images

Above all, different airlines have different requirements. What is most important for one carrier may be different for what is essential for the other. Airlines looking for better range may prefer to add the A220 to their fleets. However, operators looking to for better seating capacity on their narrowbody operations may choose the 737.

What do you think about the two jets? Do you prefer the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A220? Let us know what you think in the comment section.

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