The Airbus A330 vs The Boeing 777 – Which Plane Is Best?

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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?

Airbus A330 Boeing 777 Getty
The Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 were launched within 18 months of each other in the mid-1990s. This followed years of research and development in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Photo: Getty Images

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
NM
$238.5 million
A330-200F 58.82 m 60.3 m n/a n/a 4,000
NM
$241.7 million
A330-300 63.67 m 60.3 m 300 440 6,350
NM
$264.2 million
United Airlines Boeing 777-200
United Airlines launched the Boeing 777 commercially in June 1995. Photo: Getty Images

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Capacity

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.

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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.

Air India Boeing 777-300ER
The Boeing 777-300 benefits from additional passenger capacity due to its increased length. Photo: Getty Images

Range

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.

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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.

KLM A330 Getty
Dutch flag carrier KLM currently operates multiple variants of both the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 families. Photo: Getty Images

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.

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emirates a330
Historically, Dubi-based UAE flag carrier Emirates used to operate the Airbus A330. However, its twin-engine fleet today consists entirely of Boeing 777 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

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:

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Airbus A330neo Boeing 777X
Type A330-800 A330-900 777-8 777-9
Cockpit crew 2 2 2 2
Typical capacity 257 287 365 414
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.

Airbus A330neo
TAP Portugal seat layout on the Airbus A330neo (-900 series). Source: TAP Portugal

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.’

Conclusion

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.

Air France Airbus A330 Getty
Air Inter launched the Airbus A330 commercially in January 1994, before merging with Air France in April 1997. 15 A330s remain in the French flag carrier’s fleet today. Photo: Getty Images

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.

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