The Boeing 787 vs The Airbus A350 – What Plane Is Best?

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When you think of flagship aircraft, you think of non-other than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or the Airbus A350 XWB (eXtra Wide Body). Both represent the very best in ideas, cutting edge technology and commercial know-how from their respective companies, and one could even say represent the best of Boeing or Airbus.

Airbus A350-1000. Photo: Clemens Vasters via Flickr 

So which is the best? Let’s put together a comprehensive analysis to determine this question once and for all.

How will we compare planes?

We will rank the two planes on several different key factors such as capacity, range, fuel burn, cost and so forth. We will think from the mindset of an airline, where business and profit is key. Whilst one of the planes might have a cool feature unless it makes an improvement financially, then it will be ignored. This includes items like ‘LED mood lighting’ which is fantastic for passengers but doesn’t really impact the bottom line (And by the way, both the 787 and A350 have mood lighting onboard).

We will also be comparing the biggest and ‘flag-shippiest’ versions, the 787-10 vs A350-1000. The smaller 787-8 is more in competition with the A330neo and would not entirely be an accurate VS against the A350. Some critics might suggest it better compare the Boeing 777X vs the Airbus A350-1000 as that is a more accurate match, but as the 777X does not fly yet it would not be a fair test.

What is rather fun is that the Airbus being European will be measured in metric units, and Boeing being from the United States will be in imperial. Thus there is a lot of converting and we have tried to match up units as best as possible.

Feature 1st 787-10 SAUDI
SAUDI’s first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner arrives in Jeddah. Photo: SAUDIA

Airbus A350-1000 vs Boeing 787-10

Let’s compare them head to head with the raw numbers:

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Model Airbus A350-1000 Boeing 787-10
Cockpit crew Two Two
Seating, 2-class 366/369 (54B + 315Y) 330 (32B + 298Y)
Seating, 1-class 387 440
Max capacity 440 440
Overall length 73.78 m / 242.7 ft 68.28 m / 224 ft
Wing 64.75 m / 212.43 ft span 60.12 m / 197 ft 3 in span
Overall height 17.08 m / 56 ft 0 in 17.02 m / 55 ft 10 in
Fuselage 5.96 m / 19.7 ft width, 6.09 m / 19.98 ft height 5.77 m / 18 ft 11 in width, 5.94 m / 19 ft 6 in height
Cabin width 5.61 m / 18 ft 5 in  5.49 m / 18 ft 0 in
Fuel capacity 158,791 L / 41,948 US gal 126,372 L / 33,384 US gal
274,808 lb / 124,651 kg 223,673 lb / 101,456 kg
Cargo capacity 44 LD3 or 14 pallets 40 LD3 or 13 (96×125) pallets
Speed (Cruise + Max) Cruise: Mach 0.85 (488 kn; 903 km/h)
Max: Mach 0.89 (513 kn; 950 km/h)
Cruise: Mach 0.85 (488 kn; 903 km/h)
Max: Mach 0.90 (516 kn; 956 km/h);
Range 15,600 km / 8,400 nmi 11,910 km / 6,430 nmi
Takeoff (MTOW, SL, ISA) 2,600 m (8,500 ft) 9,100 ft (2,800 m)
Service ceiling 41,450 ft (12,630 m) 43,000 ft (13,100 m)
Engines (2×) Rolls-Royce Trent XWB General Electric GEnx-1B or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000
Maximum thrust 431.5 kN / 97,000 lbf 76,000 lbf (340 kN)

Let’s break down each item:

Seating: In a two-class configuration, the Airbus A350 can handle more passengers than the Boeing. Apparently, while they can fix the same maximum amount on board, realistically however, neither would operate with 440 onboard. Winner: Airbus A350 

But we should also compare the smaller A350-900, which seating 315 passengers just comes shy to Boeing 787-10s 330 seats.

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Cabin Size: Thanks to the bigger size of the plane, the Airbus A350 has an extra 10cm on board for passengers to enjoy. This is almost inconsequential so we will say Draw.

Fuel Capacity: The Airbus has larger fuel tanks than the Boeing, as per its larger range (see below). Winner: Airbus A350

Cargo Capacity: Despite the Airbus being bigger than the Boeing, they both have roughly the same cargo capacity. Draw.

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Speed: Both aircraft are within the same speed and thus are comparable.

Range: The A350-1000 has a bigger range than the Boeing 787-10. However, the smaller Boeing 787-9 has a range of 7,635 nmi (14,140 km) and thus is almost equal to Airbus. This is a hard win to give away. Winner: Airbus A350-1000

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Runway take-off length: Turns out, the bigger plane can deliver more takeoff thrust and thus take off from a shorter runway. Winner: Airbus A350

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What about maintenance and fuel efficiency?

It is an open secret that the Boeing 787 is by far the most fuel-efficient plane on the market. Below is a graph that ranks the fuel efficiency of each aircraft comparatively, however the fuel efficiency of the Boeing 787-10 and Airbus A350-1000 is not present (From 2016).

Different aircraft ranked on fuel efficiency. Photo: Wikimedia

To compare the Boeing 787-9 vs the Airbus A350-900 over 6,500 miles (Study in 2013):
Boeing: 2.81 L/100 km (84 mpg)
Airbus: 3.08 L/100 km (76 mpg)

The big advantage to the A350-900 is it can also fly much further and with a larger payload than the 787-9. Once the 787-9 is at maximum fuel load for it to fly further you must start to reduce payload. 1000nm past this point the A350-900 can carry TWICE the payload weight of the 787-9. – RJMAZ – Airliners.net

Per seat, the Boeing 787-10 would come out ahead of the A350-1000, but as the A350 can carry more passengers, this may negate any savings made unless the 787-10 was in a dense configuration.

Additionally, because of all the technology and new features, the Boeing 787 has been running into engine problems, having to be replaced by an Airbus A380, or an Airbus A340.

What about cost?

Just from reading above you would realize that the Airbus A350 has the 787 beat in passenger numbers, range and fuel capacity, which makes sense as it is a bigger aircraft.

However, this is one last area we have not compared, Price.

787-10: US$325.8 million (2018)
A350-1000: US$366.5 million (2018)

As you can see, the Boeing 787 is cheaper. If you are an airline that is not flying over the max distance of the 787, between smaller destinations that do not have the capacity for a larger plane (Such as a Boeing 777) then all that is left to care about is price.

And you bet Boeing will give you a great discount if you order more than one, beating out any possible discount Airbus could provide. Plus, with the savings brought by these two planes on fuel consumption, you are guaranteed to start earning more faster with the Boeing.

A perfect example would be a US domestic carrier like United or Delta.

United
A United 787-10. Photo: United

Real-life case study: Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines operates 32 A350-900s and 13 Boeing 787-10s.

Both aircraft are flown on Singapore to Seoul route (with the 787-10 starting on the 1st of May 2019) and will be a great comparison of which aircraft is better.

Singapore
Singapore to Seoul. Photo: GC Maps

First, the seat layout:

A350-900 – Inter-Asian version
40 Business-class and 263 Economy class seats

 

Singapore A350 seat map. Photo: Singapore Airlines

Boeing 787-10
36 Business-class and 301 Economy class seats.

Singapore
Singapore Boeing 787-10 seat map. Photo: Singapore Airlines

In economy, both have a 3-3-3 configuration (although something odd is going on at the rear right-hand side of the 787-10 with those blocked middle seats).

According to Seat Guru, the seats on the A350 take advantage of the wider aircraft and provide 0.5 inches more width (although the same pitch of 32 inches). This is hardly a massive difference, and at the same token, the 787-10 has 2 inches wider business class seats (the same pitch).

Singapore
The medium-haul seats installed onboard. Photo: Singapore Airlines

The Boeing 787-10 is going to feel more crowded with more passengers on board, but the difference should hardly be noticeable. Looking at reviews online, both planes have the same complaints of shortened legroom and a narrow business class.

The 787-10, by carrying more passengers and with better fuel economy, is actually earning more money for the airline.

Winner: Dreamliner 787-10

Hold on, what if Singapore ordered and deployed an A350-1000 on this route? They would be able to make up the difference in passenger numbers but it would be a close race with fuel economy.

Likewise, Singapore also operates two other versions of the A350-900, one for long haul and a special ultra-long-range. Despite this, they both have the same cabin (the A350-900LR doesn’t have economy, but only premium economy with 38 inches of pitch and thus carries way fewer passengers) as the shorter range version with 32 inches in economy.

These aircraft are deployed on very specific routes to find the most profit (such as New York to Singapore which commands a very high premium). You might think that this means that the A350-900 / 1000 is good for long-range routes for premium customers, but Qantas has found great success using a Boeing 787 on their long-range London to Perth route.

Qantas 787
The 787 has been very good for Qantas. Photo: Qantas

Judging by the pure sale numbers of the two types as of August 2019, Boeing has sold 1,464 orders of the 787 and has managed to deliver 882. Whilst Airbus has only sold 913 of the A350 and made 300 deliveries), we can see that the industry prefers the Boeing 787.

We should also mention the caveat that there are three variants of the 787 and only two of the A350 (thus more variants for the airlines to choose from**). Plus, the Boeing 787 started deliveries in 2011, three years before the Airbus A350. So if we divided the total orders by how many years the aircraft has been available (Boeing at 15 years from 2004 announcement and Airbus at 13 years since 2016) we should get a little more of an accurate picture.

Boeing popularity average = 1464 / 15 = 97.6 orders per year
Airbus popularity average = 913 / 15 = 70.2 orders per year

Thus we could suggest that Boeing is the more popular aircraft with airlines. Although one theory is that if Airbus had been to market at the same time as Boeing they would have won over some of those initial numbers. But this falls flat when you realize the biggest Dreamliner order was in 2007 (when the A350 was available to order) with 369 units in that year alone.

Most popular: Boeing 787

** Airbus actually did offer an A350-800 but it was so unpopular that no one bought it. They then rolled the design into the A330neo

So who is the real winner? It depends on what you need it for and how much you are willing to spend. If you want a long-range aircraft with maximum passengers, then the A350-1000 is perfect for you. But if you have a shorter route within seven hours, then the Boeing 787-10 will give you better economics.

And this is supported by the industry, with United using the 787-10 for mostly domestic operations (although they did just plan to use it to fly long-haul to NZ) and Qatar extensively using the A350-1000 to fly around the world.

Be sure to read our article, Boeing 787 vs Airbus A330neo and our other article Boing 777x vs Airbus A350. The true clash of the Titans.

Let us know who you think should win in the comments.

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