The Airbus A330 program was developed back in the late 1980s. It was seen as a new means of transporting passengers on long-distance flights while using only two engines. Boeing, sensing a change in the wind, wanted to get in on the action. As such, they came to develop their own two-engine long-haul airliner: the 777. But which is the better aircraft?
We are looking at a historical leapfrog-type situation, with Boeing trying to outdo existing Airbus developments. Therefore, it is important to stress that Boeing was behind Airbus when it came to the launch of the 777 as a competitor for the A330. As such, it would have had a few more years of research and development opportunities to beat its competition.
Comparing the specifications
The data table below depicts an outline of all the different types of Boeing 777 aircraft, apart from the next-generation 777X series. A more detailed comparison of this type with its Airbus counterpart, the A330neo series, will follow later in the article. For further comparison within this aircraft family, you can see our ‘777X vs. 777-300ER‘ article, published last month.
|Type||Length||Wingspan||Capacity (three-class)||Maximum capacity||Range||List price|
|777-200||63.73 m||60.93 m||305||440||5,240 NM||$261.5 million|
|777-200ER||63.73 m||60.93 m||305||440||7,065 NM||$306.6 million|
|777-200LR||63.73 m||64.80 m||301||440||8,555 NM||$346.9 million|
|777-300||73.86 m||60.93 m||368||550||6,030 NM||$361.5 million|
|777-300ER||73.86 m||64.80 m||365||550||7,370 NM||$375.5 million|
|777F||63.73 m||64.80 m||n/a||n/a||4,970 NM||$352.3 million|
In a similar vein, the following data table highlights the differences in the first-generation Airbus A330 family. As above, we have also included the freight variant for the sake of comparison.
|Type||Length||Wingspan||Capacity (three-class)||Maximum capacity||Range||List Price|
|A330-200||58.82 m||60.3 m||246||406||7,250
|A330-200F||58.82 m||60.3 m||n/a||n/a||4,000
|A330-300||63.67 m||60.3 m||300||440||6,350
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In terms of passenger capacity, the charts above show that the A330-330 is very similar to the 777-200. Indeed, one might come to expect this, given that their dimensions are almost identical. However, the A330-300 is the largest variant of its family, whereas the 777-200 is the smaller variant.
Measuring over 10 meters longer than both the A330-300 and the 777-200, the 777-300 seats a significantly higher number of passengers. Meanwhile, the smaller A330-200 is more comparable in terms of passenger capacity with the Boeing 767-400. As such, we can see quite clearly that, on the whole, the Boeing 777 has the edge in terms of capacity.
Looking at the respective operational ranges of these aircraft, the A330 competes very strongly with the 777. Indeed, the A330-200 outranks any first-generation 777 variant, with the A330-300 also beating the Boeing 777-300.
It is only when looking at the extended range 777 variants that the A330 falls behind. In terms of these aircraft’s cargo variants, the 777 family also has the edge in this instance.
Value for money
One area in which there is a significant difference between the two aircraft families is their respective prices. To use the examples of the A330-300 ($264 million) and the Boeing 777-300 ($361.5 million), we can see a difference of almost $100 million.
Whilst we know that airlines don’t pay list value for aircraft, one does wonder why airlines would pay as much as $97 million more. Indeed, comparing the two aircraft families’ specifications has shown that the A330 is, more often than not, a strong competitor.
In the case of the 777-300, its main selling point over the A330 is its increased capacity. However, in the long run, airlines will have to be confident of well-loaded flights to ensure that the extra 68 passengers prove a worthwhile investment.
On the whole, it is difficult to say which aircraft is better. While the A330 family is smaller than the Boeing 777, its cost and range still make it an attractive proposition for airlines. However, beyond the first generation, the A330 no longer remains competitive compared to the extended range 777 variants. As such, it is here that the American manufacturer has the edge.
The next generation – A330neo vs. 777X
The 777X is perhaps more comparable with the A350. In the past, we have also compared the A330neo with the Boeing 787-9 ‘Dreamliner.’ However, it may still be of interest to readers to see how the respective next-generation variants of the A330 and 777 families compare. Their specifications are as follows:
|Airbus A330neo||Boeing 777X|
|Exit limit (maximum possible capacity)||406||440||Unknown||475|
|Length||58.82 m||63.66 m||69.8 m||76.7 m|
|Height||17.39 m||16.79 m||19.5 m||19.7 m|
|Cabin width||5.26m||5.96 m|
|Cargo capacity||136.0 m3 (4,800 cu ft)||162.8 m3 (5,750 cu ft)||Unknown||230.2 m3 (8,131 cu ft)|
|Fuel Capacity||139,090 l (36,740 US gal), 111,272 kg (245,313 lb)||197,977 L (52,300 US gal) 158,940 kg (350,410 lb)|
|Range||8,150nmi / 15,094 km||7,200nmi / 13,334 km||8,690 nmi / 16,090 km||7,525 nmi / 13,940 km|
With the 777X simply being a larger aircraft than the A330neo, it has several operational advantages. These include better passenger capacity and better cargo space. The latter of these aspects has recently become particularly lucrative for airlines worldwide. Indeed, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused passenger demand levels to fall sharply. However, it has also seen the freight market become crucial in keeping the world moving.
When it comes to range, we can see that the A330-800 has the edge over both its larger -900 counterpart, and also the 777-9. However, it falls behind the 777-8 in this aspect. Indeed, both versions of the A330neo fall just behind their respective 777X counterparts.
As such, airlines are faced with something of a dilemma. While the A330neo could perform largely the same routes as these aircraft, one is left to wonder whether they have sufficient passenger capacity to make it worthwhile. Perhaps it is an aircraft best suited to so-called ‘long thin routes.’
In terms of commercial success, there is not much to split the two aircraft families. The Airbus A330 was launched with Air Inter in 1994, and has sold 1,506 examples. Meanwhile, since its launch with United in June 1995, Boeing has produced 1,649 examples of the 777 family. Both types continue to see widespread active service worldwide today.
One also has to consider the passengers’ perspective. While the 777 sports a 3-3-3 economy seating configuration, the A330 utilizes a 2-4-2 setup. Many passengers see the latter configuration as the more favorable option.
Indeed, it allows couples to have a pair of seats to themselves, and no seat is more than one place away from an aisle. Furthermore, economy passengers on A330 aircraft often enjoy slightly wider seats. This is due to there being one seat fewer per row than in the 777’s 3-3-3 economy cabin.
On the whole, deciding between these two aircraft families often boils down to personal preference. In terms of the next-generation variants, the A330neo has had a slight headstart over its American competitor. It launched commercially with TAP Portugal in December 2018.
Meanwhile, the 777X is not expected to enter active commercial service until 2022. It will certainly be fascinating to see how these next-generation models end up performing in years to come.