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The Airbus A380 vs A350 – What Plane Is Best?

In the past, we discussed how the Boeing 777X is the perfect replacement for the 747.

But now that the Airbus A380 has been discontinued, is the newer Airbus A350 the perfect replacement? Or rather, is the A350 even a match for the glorious double decked airbus aircraft?

Singapore Airlines A380

Singapore Airlines A380. Photo: Wikipedia.

On paper, it looks perfect. Both are long-range, high capacity aircraft, allowing airlines to transport hundreds of passengers across the globe. Both are cutting edge (for their time of development) and both are considered some of best aircraft flying today. But they are not equal, so which is better?

Which aircraft will we be comparing?

Whilst there is only one version of the A380 (there have been some minor improvements over the years, such as adding sharklets to the design, but overall the plane is still the same), there are currently only ‘two’ variants of the A350. The first is the A350-900, essentially the base model that all A350s are built from. This variant has an additional version, which is the special A350-900ULR (ultra-long-range). This is the aircraft that Singapore Airlines uses to fly from New York to Singapore on the world’s longest route. 

The second version is the high capacity A350-1000. Bigger and better than the -900, this one is a worthy contender for the A380, and will be the focus of this article.

Singapore Airlines A350

Singapore uses the A350 to fly the world’s longest airline route. Photo: Singapore Airlines.

There is a rumor of a further stretch of the A350-1000, dubbed the A350-2000. This one would have a longer range and carry an extra 45 passengers (up to 427) to compete with the upcoming Boeing 777x.

The Airbus A380 vs the Airbus A350

Let’s begin by looking at the raw statistics of each aircraft.

A380A350-1000
Passengers853 max or 555 (22F + 96J + 437Y three class)440 max or 387 (2-class)
Range14,800 km (8,000 nmi)15,600 km (8,400 nmi)
Cargo Capacity175.2 m3208.2 m3
Fuel Capacity323,546 litres159,000 L

Passengers

It’s clear from the outset that the A380 is going to dominate any conversation about passenger capacity (until Russia starts flying its over-the-top A380 killer) with 853 max passengers in a one class layout. The A350-1000 can only hold 440 max passengers, but that’s only 150 less than the A380 when comparing regular airline configuration.

That being said, not many A350’s have a first class (as many airlines no longer want to provide it) and thus it can be difficult to compare between the two aircraft. A380s have extra perks, such as showers, bars, and lounges for their premium guests.

Winner: A380

Range

Surprisingly, for all its size, the A380 can’t actually go as far as the A350. The A350-1000 can travel an additional 800km than the A380 (with the A350-900ULR traveling up to 18,000km) and can open up new routes that the A380 simply can’t accommodate.

This flexibility and money making potential guarantees the A350 to be far more useful. This is especially true as the world shifts away from the classic hub to hub model (London to New York) and towards point to point (Manchester to Boston).

Winner: A350

SAS A350. Photo: Scandinavian Airlines

Cargo

Cargo or freight is a major revenue earner for airlines, especial those on routes that criss-cross across the world (say that three times fast). The A380, for all its passenger capacity, is not actually a very good cargo carrier. The A350 is able to carry around 20 more square meters of cargo. This lets airlines rely more on lucrative, consistent mail contracts rather than passengers who demand food whilst flying.

Winner: A350

An interesting point of trivia is that Airbus has actually considered a cargo variant of the A380 in the past, but never went ahead with actual production.

Fuel capacity and efficiency

Let’s talk about fuel efficiency. As mentioned in many previous articles, there is one major downside to flying what is essentially a two-story building across the planet. Fuel consumption. The A380 needs to carry twice as much fuel as the A350, yet flies almost the same distance. This means that not only is the A350 twice as fuel efficient (obviously because it weighs far less too) but that it costs airlines less to run too.

Fuel

Source: Wikipedia

As we can see from the graph, the A380 is one of the least fuel-efficient aircraft operating in the world today. The Airbus A350-900, pictured above, is far more fuel efficient per passenger, thanks to new engines, engineering, and design principles. Simply, the A350 is the better aircraft if your fuel budget is tight (looking at you Emirates!).

Winner: A350

Technology

The A350 also has several technological features that the A380 lacks. This is simply due to the former being designed many years after the latter, taking advantage of newer ideas and concepts when designing aircraft. An example of a few of these are:

  • Bigger windows
  • Ambient lighting (to reduce jet lag)
  • Quieter engines and more soundproofing (which has the opposite effect of allowing passengers to hear their neighbours more loudly than they might like).

Winner: A350 (kind of unfair as the A350 is a newer aircraft)

Cost

Here is the average cost for each aircraft:

  • A350-1000: US$ 366.5 million
  • A380: US$ 445.6 million

From above, we can see that it’s night and day which is cheaper (although keep in mind most airlines pay only 50% of the listed cost). The A350 is cheaper to run and cheaper to buy. The A380, not only is more expensive to operate and buy, but more of a challenge to fill too. If the point of profit is 50% capacity (just an example), an A350 will be profitable quicker than an A380.

Winner: A350

Lufthansa 787 A350 order

The Lufthansa Group has ordered 20 A350 aircraft from Airbus. Photo: Lufthansa

Overall, whilst the A380 can carry more passengers than the A350, the latter is simply a more modern aircraft. A modern aircraft for a modern world that doesn’t need flying showers with half a thousand people on board. This author loves the A380 and hopes that the A350 can win their love also.

Let us know in the comments which you think is better?

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