With production of the Boeing 747 coming to an end, the 777X will become Boeing’s flagship big plane. Over at Airbus, production of the A380 is also wrapping up. But the A380 is a newer plane than the 747, and market conditions aside, it still has a fair bit more flying to do. So, when flying gets back to normal, and you find a 777X and A380 parked side by side at an airport sometime in the next few years, which plane should you hop aboard?
The world’s biggest operator of A380s, Emirates, is keeping a foot in both camps. According to Boeing’s order book, they have around 115 A380s on their hands right now and have an order in for 115 Boeing 777Xs.
Most airlines opt for one type or the other. Fourteen airlines normally fly A380s. Most aren’t doing so at the moment. But of those fourteen A380 operators, less than half have orders in for 777Xs. In addition to Emirates, British Airways plans to take 18 Boeing 777Xs, Etihad wants 25 of the 777Xs, Singapore Airlines will take 20 777Xs, All Nippon Airways wants 20 of them, and Qatar Airways is still on the books for 60 Boeing 777Xs.
What’s working against both planes is that they are big aircraft, yet the market is trending towards smaller planes. As of October, 251 A380-800 aircraft had been ordered, and 243 delivered. Boeing has 309 orders for its 777X plane, none of which are yet delivered.
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The differences between the 777X and the A380
Notwithstanding that, what are the differences between the two planes? What are the similarities? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each aircraft type? Here’s a handy table to provide an overview.
|Seating, 2-class||365||414||575 Typical, 853 Max|
|Seating, 3-class||349 (8F + 49J + 292Y)||555 (22F + 96J + 437Y)|
|Cargo capacity||8,131 cu ft (230.2 m3)||6,190 cu ft (175.2 m3)|
|Length||229 ft (69.8m)||251.9 ft 9 (76.7m)||238.7 ft (72.72m)|
|Wingspan||235.5 ft (71.8 m), 212.9 ft (64.8 m) folded||261.8 ft (79.75 m)|
|Wing area||466.8m2 (5,025 sq ft), AR 11.04||845 m2 (9,100 sq ft), AR 7.53|
|Height||64 ft (19.5 m)||64.7 ft (19.7m)||79 ft (24.09 m)|
|Width, exterior||20.4 ft (6.20 m)||21.4 ft (6.50 m)|
|Width, cabin||19.6 ft (5.96 m)||19 ft (5.80 m)|
|MTOW||775,000 lb (351,534 kg)||1,268,000 lb (575,155 kg)|
|Max. Payload||162,000 lb (73,500 kg)||185,000 lb (83914 kg)|
|OEW||400,000 lb (181,400 kg)||611,000 lb (277,144 kg)|
|Fuel capacity||52,300 US gal (197,977 L)||85,472 US gal (323,546 L)|
|Range||8,690 nmi / 16,090 km||7,525 nmi / 13,940 km||8,000 nmi / 14,800 km|
|Engine||General Electric GE9X-105B1A||GP7200 / Trent 900|
|Thrust (×2)||105,000 lbf (470 kN)||74,740–80,210 lbf (332.44–356.81 kN)|
This first challenge is a bit of a no brainer. Whilst the Boeing 777-9 does very well with 414 seats onboard, the Airbus A380 dominates with over 500 seats. Even looking at a 3 class variation, the A380 just has way more room. This is due to the plane being double-decked, fitting in roughly twice the space on board.
What plane is the best when it comes to cargo?
Traditionally, freight was one of the better but mostly ignored profit drivers for airlines. That’s changed this year. Many airlines are cross subsidizing poorly loaded passenger services with freight. Freight has the added advantage of not demanding drinks and constantly hitting the inflight call button.
The 777X is the clear winner here. The A380 requires a lot of fuel, and as such, it has had to sacrifice cargo space for those big tanks. The A380 has room for 6,190 cubic feet of freight, whereas the 777X has room for 8,131 cubic feet of freight.
Which airline has the best range & fuel efficiency?
The Airbus A380 can fly for 14,800 kilometers. The smaller of the 777Xs, the 777-8, can fly 16,090 kilometers, and the larger 777-9 can fly 13,940 kilometers. On range, the 777-8 substantially outperforms the A380. But most of the orders so far have been for the 777-9, which has a slightly shorter range than the A380.
So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The A380 has four engines, and the 777X only has two. Logically, more engines means more fuel consumed.
But it gets a little more complicated when we add in the aircraft’s weight, what materials it is made out of, and general design principles to be as aerodynamic as possible. Built off the back of the famously fuel-efficient Boeing 787, the 777X reaps the benefits of all that experience.
So whilst the A380 might have way more fuel onboard (it can carry 85,472 gallons compared to 52,300 gallons on the 777X), the A380 needs it because the plane is nowhere near as efficient as the 777X, costing the operator far more money in the long run. So while the 777-9 might not have the range the A380 has, it’s far cheaper to fly on a per kilometer basis.
With four engines to power the plane, the A380 uses a crazy amount of thrust to get itself airborne. The plane needs it. The A380 has a maximum takeoff mass of 575,155 kilograms. In contrast, the two-engine powered 777X has a maximum takeoff mass of 351,534 kilograms.
What about the cost?
Airlines rarely pay list prices for planes, and that’s even more so the case these days. But if you were an airline boss with zero bargaining power, here’s what the going rates are for the 777X and the A380 planes;
- 777-8: 394.9 million USD.
- 777-9: 425.8 million USD.
- A380: 445.6 million USD
At face value, the 777X costs less. Break down on a seat by seat cost, though, and the margins will narrow. And let’s face it, if you can drop $425 million on a plane, you can probably drop $445 million.
But both planes are expensive, and in these cost-constrained times, that’s going to work against the 777X as much as it worked against the A380 over the last two decades. The relative paucity of orders for both aircraft types means the economies of scale achieved with planes such as the Boeing 747 and Boeing 787 probably won’t get realized here.
What’s the better option? The 777X or the A380?
While the A380 is a bigger plane and has an ongoing role flying large numbers of passengers on high volume long-haul routes, that role is becoming more and more niche. Also working against the A380 is the sheer cost of operating the plane. Those four big engines soak up a lot of jet fuel.
Even though it’s smaller, the lower cost of buying and operating the 777X works in its favor. For most airlines, it would be a preferred choice. Working against the 777X is its troubled timeline coming to fruition. While test flights have begun, the plane has yet to be delivered to any airlines and yet to fly any paying passengers.
Passengers can be tough judges of planes. They like space and comfort, two things that cost airlines money. The A380 delivers on that for passengers. We haven’t yet seen what the 777X delivers for passengers. It might be a great plane, or it might be more like the Dreamliner, a plane that airlines like, but many passengers don’t.
On paper, the 777X looks like the better plane. But there are some things we can’t evaluate until the 777X starts taking passengers. We’ll be keen to come back and revisit this topic when that happens.
Until then, be sure to let us know if we missed anything in the comments.