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

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:

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.

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.

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

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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George karamish

Airbus planes are just trucks – with different sizes –
Technology and competence remain to Boeing.
Stop hiding behind your small finger.

Roland Heller

what the article forgot to mention is cabin noise and comfort for passengers. Boeing aircrafts are noisy for passengers – I rather sit in a comfortable and quiet airbus on a longer flight.

Alex

True that Airbus designed cabins that are whisper quiet from engine noise….too bad all internal noise by the passengers talking …babies crying clanking of silverware are easily heard. I’ll take the white noise in a Boieng cabin that drawns out all that noise to the so called whisper quiet Airbus cabin full of noise from passengers cacking and clacketing about to unbearable levels.

mckillio

Doesn’t the 787 have hgher humidity levels and higher pressurization than the a350? Increasing customer comfort.

gene

I just posted a question about this; YOU are correct and I feel I’d have avoided days of jet-lag if my return from Europe was a 787.

Andy Zawieja

Oposit

komzie

Airbus has been the leading technological company in commercial aviation, they pioneered FBW and advanced use of composites since the late 80’s, there are facts, perhaps you should be more intellectually honest and stop fanboying for Boing because well…’Murica?

john russell

The “Dreamliner” is only better in price-why? Boeing sold the first 500 at below cost. Airlines love that. Boeing has lost over 50 billion dollars on the “Dreamliner”!!!!!. wHAT NOW WITH THE 737MAX8? Boeing is going!

Nate Dogg

I know when I hear someone talking male cow excrement….

LOW Brainer

737Max8 technology. A killer airplane with a mind of its own. Airbus has been ahead of Boeing since the advent of the A320. But do we really have to be realistic ?

Andrew Boydston

The main category you missed is the market fit. Boeing exceeds the A-350 by trumping efficiency over seat miles by every type. Yes The A350 does carry more fuel to go further with more passenger thus enhanced space is needed for more customers. Airlines are looking for a business fit using seat miles metrics. A passenger in a seat will go with less expensive per mile on a specific route. The A350 has a lot of unnecessary capability each trip it takes when it can’t fill the seat or have long-range routes available. The best airplane is the one that… Read more »

Paul Proctor

Shallow journalism. These are two different size aircraft, so apples and oranges. You also forgot 787 larger windows and non-bleed air pressurization. 787 also has high-tech turbulence avoidance system. The last two I mentioned makes for a much more comfortable long distance flight for passengers. Actually, it’s Airbus that can make the price deals, as A350 development was heavily subsidized by the European governments.

LOWbrainer

Boeing’s military contracts with the US provide absolute protection from bankruptcy so selling below cost is no problem for this company.

john russell

Boeing is a great company or it was till it got this crap management. I feel sorry for all the technicians,engineers and assemblers, maybe joining with Douglas was a mistake

Ron

Have you seen the al Jazeera piece on youtube regarding quality issues at Boeing?

Andy

USA Armi subsidized Boeing

Delio

Airbus, All he way

NB

You missed out on two important factors:

1. Maintenance costs and out of service time.
2. Availability, or lack of, due to faults, snags, etc.

DT

If I have a choice it would be Airbus, second to none!
787 makes me feel claustrophobic, bigger windows yes, but you can’t look out, because some airlines dim the windows, even during daytime flight.

minh trinh

yes ! it s personal choice ! AB350 or DreamLiner 787.
not BIas ! I flew on both, and like both , depend on the flight route, passenger composite , and how much turbulent outside !
at -60 C outside at 40,000 feet. all factoid s are equal then I like the flex wing on 787 that absorbed a little bit swing on the turbulent ! just MHO !

Diesel G.

Good article and interesting facts. I am impressed that Nicholas is trying to reply to comments, whether it’s pure criticism or praise.

BB

DT, your silly bias for the #2 planemaker is showing.

Joe Lam

So AIrbus is #2? Don’t remember them ever ignoring safety to the extent that Boeing did with the MAX: rushing a design, outsourcing work, adding in a system that relied on a single sensor rather than several, not telling pilots about a system that could not be turned off by flipping a switch, and then not fixing it correctly.

Briora1

You cannot really compare the A350 with the B787 family since both airplanes are based on completely different design objectives. The larger A350 was intended to go after the B777’s market dominance. In fact, the A350 family is sized more like todays B777 family, not the smaller 787. The A350-900 is a good airplane IF you are a premium carrier that can generate enough revenue to pay for its higher costs while the A350-1000 only allows an upgauge from the -900, but offers no advantage over the very popular B777-300ER and the future B777X Family.

Don

The A350 is kind of an in between model that tried with one model to compete with both the 787 and the 777. The 1000 definitely will give performance advantages over the older 777 models but at a higher price (look at the purchase by United of the 777-300ER). Recent sales definitely show that airlines think the 787 meets their needs better than the A350. I believe this is largely due to maintenance and performance issues on the majority of their routes, which are not out anywhere near maximum range. Notably at this moment, neither the 777 nor the A350… Read more »

Grigoris

I am an Airbus guy, but also Boeing is playing strong on market with a lot improvents while 787 is money maker. But really can’t understand WHY Boeing don’t switch to stick and table…. So sad to have this ugly yok in front of you…

GEORGE

RIGHT ON THROTTLES ………LEFT ON STICK,,,,,,,,, SEEMS LIKE YOGA

Don

As another mentioned, maintenance cost is huge, and while you noted total distance and had the fuel capacity, you did not come up with fuel efficiency numbers (range/fuel capacity) which definitely seems to come out to the advantage of the 787.

John

The 787 is a technically superior plane to the A350 and was designed from the ground up to be one of the most fuel efficient and comfortable planes ever built. The A350 was a last minute design to both the lack of response to the A380 and as Europe’s answer to the superior 787. It was designed hastily amidst growing worries of the 787 dominance in this plane segment. There’s really no comparison. The A350 as some have correctly pointed out is actually a competitor to the 777. Once the 777x is completed the plane plane may have a hard… Read more »

Joao Morais

So, the fact that the A350’s fuselage is 10 cm wider can be ignored, but the fact that the B787’s max speed is 3 knots, only 3 knots higher is a plus?? Give me a break!!!! These planes never fly at their max speeds, their cruise is Mach 0,85, regardless of what cost index you put in. This comparison is simply stupid. Both planes are extremely advanced technologically, extremely efficient, and the factors that can make an airline choose one of them in detriment of the other are vast, this discussion is pointless.

Roland Heller

The technology and materials of a 787 are so good that boeing doesn’t want to use them on the new 797. Instead they will go back to traditional aluminium.

737 4 Ever

Interesting article Nicholas thanks for sharing, I agree with your article. But “If it’s not a BOEING I’m not going” !!!

Niklas

yes like 737 max you are still going ?

737 4 EVER

Interesting article Nicholas thanks for sharing. I agree with your article. But “If it’s not a BOEING I’m not going” !!!

george

of course………….no one loves to ride the racoon………………lol

Richard Collins

Americans Biased comments… enough said…

RC

I guess raw stats can be compared all day long – but for me what ultimately counts is the experience in-cabin. I travel widely, short and long haul and for me I actively avoid Boeing products wherever possible, like for like I just find Airbus models to be quieter with more room. I would use KLM for trips, but avoid them if at all possible as I detest the cramped, antiquated layout on the 737 they use and it’s unbelievably poor air con. Sorry but the 737 is an ancient 60’s design long overdue replacement. You can add blue led… Read more »

Will

I agree with RC! As an American, and I was a bit of blinded Boeing fan boy in my younger and more naive days, I have long changed my attitude and concluded Airbus is superior and more refined. As my travel increased, logging 250k-300k miles a year, I have a lot of data points to compare airplanes from countless of hours spent in the air, siting in all areas of a cabin… If I remove my pride as an American from the equation, and just look at the data objectively, I much prefer to fly in an Airbus than Boeing.… Read more »

JL

Looking at sales/order data, anything larger than A320/B737, looks like B777 and B787 are really racking up the sales/orders away from A350, A380, B767, B747, etc (the larger than A320/B737 market). It appears that B747s are being replaced by B777, the A380 really failed to capture the B747 market, and even the new B747 doesn’t appear to have a strong start probably due to the B777. Any residual demand appears to be falling favourably to the B787. The early order data suggests that the B787 may eventually overtake the B777, like the B777 overtook the B747. Airbus may be miscalculating… Read more »

Niklas

FOX NEWS ?

Robert McBride

Say it again…If it’s not a Boeing, I’m not going! I’ll stick with American made aircraft thank you very much…Boeing aircraft that set the standards by which Airbus is good at trying to improve upon. Never heard of a Boeing aircraft losing tails (Queens AA) or stalling out over the ocean (Rio2Paris AF)…If it weren’t for European government subsidies, would Airbus even be in business??? Seems Boeing is taxed at keeping up with 787 demand which is giving rise to the A350….Time will tell…

Will

@Robert McBride

I am more realistic and wouldn’t rule out a brand entirely but I will say “i ain’t going if it’s a 787”. I loved the 787 when it was introduced but after many rides on it, I chose to stop because it’s simply one of the worst in-cabin experience you can find… All the stuff Boeing cheapened 787, leading to an airplane of 2-3 years old, rattles and shades more frequently than a 20+ year old 767.

Niklas

MAGA talk sponsored by FOX NEWS ?

please recall… what’s going on MAX Robert ?

David Ramsay

Both aircraft are at the top end of passenger comfort and experience, only the A380 offers a better cabin on the metrics in all classes. In business the emirates bar at the back of the A380 is a benefit I really enjoy, not for getting drunk standing up, just standing up and moving to break up a long haul flight, it’s a real passenger benefit for the business and first class cabin. I have flown all in economy and business. As a passenger I find the extra inch of width on my economy seat makes a BIG difference and I… Read more »

Elon Anderson

Anybody looking for an A320 cockpit Shell 90% complete?

Dick Wilmot

I can’t sleep on the big Boeings. Horrible vibrations. I value sleep so i prefer Dreamliner or way aft and down in the tail in an A-380. I rarely fly domestic so we take off north from SFO then right for EU or left for Asia. Got here to Asia on A-350-900 and will return from Singapore on a Singapore Girl A-350 (1000?).

Jerry

I have maintained and managed both Airbus and Boeing products since 1977. Boeing builds a better and longer lasting aircraft than Airbus.

Paul

Right from the start I can see a lot of bias, fueled up by American nationalist pride. However, as a global traveller given the fact I’ve had the chance to fly both airliners, I can firmly confirm A350 is the better aircraft, at least from a passenger point of view; and let’s be honest here, you mentioned speed as an important variable, but I find it ridiculous since the difference is only Mach 0.01 and airliners rarely fly at Max speed. Every pilot I’ve asked so far, and some of them are big Boeing fan boys, they would rather fly… Read more »

Peter

I have just spoken to friends who have flown 4 x 6+hour sectors in 72 hours. 2 X British Airways World Traveller in B787 – 8 214PAX 2 X Qatar Airways Economy in A350 – 900 283PAX On all flights they were window and middle with another passenger occupying the aisle seat but in differing parts of the cabin. The clear winner from the passenger perspective was the A350 with the B787 so hopeless cramped as to cause them real skeletal problems (and they are not particular large people). They could not comfortably watch the screen as it was too… Read more »

Matt Lazarus

I find Boeing planes to be noisy. Overhead bins always rattling on take-off. Airbus 320 makes strange sound when lowering and retracting landing gear, but otherwise find Airbus flights more comfortable. Airbus seats always seem slightly wider, but that may simply be the airline. I looked forward to 787 when it first came out, but did not find it to be anything special, at least for passengers. Have not yet flown Airbus 350. Japan Airlines has just taken delivery of its first Airbus 350, which will be used initially on domestic routes (ANA and Japan Airlines both use 777 on… Read more »

Travis

I just want to add, It’s obvious both planes have benefits. I think the proof is in the ammount of 5 star airlines that ordered both the A350 and the 787 – Singapore, Lufthansa, Thai, Etihad, JAL , Emirates.
Only on an aviation geek level I do prefer the A350. I guess seeing nearly the entire fleet of AirNZ grounded at the airport also weighed on my decision.

Travis

I meant to say the entire fleet of Airnz 787’s grounded

Parker West

Airbus somehow believes bigger wins, certainly that belief in regards to the 380 was beyond idiotic and a money burner. Maintenance expenses may truly tell the tail 5-6 years down the trail, the 350 took the cheaper, quicker approach to building the fuselage using aluminum frames in which the composite panels are inserted, Boeing ops for the solid sections. Is this going to make a difference, who knows but in theory any engineer will sell you on the single section very the many pieces approach. It’s all about making money, every dollar saved represents $10- $20 in revenue that has… Read more »

Norman

People…remember the caveat at the beginning of the article viz. …” We will think from the mindset of an airline, where business and profit is key”
I think two interesting additional statistics might be
1) delivery delay times
2) downtime due to faults including/excluding engines

Trent

They really wanted to try to make the 787 look bad but really couldn’t. Nicholas did a good job comparing them. What caught my eye is that the Boeing is holding up really well 8 years after its first delivery.

Gene

Not a word about the most important VALUE to crew and passengers of the Boeing 787: composite material construction allows better pressurization; to around 6000 feet elevation equivalent; rather than 10,000 feet. This offers less jet-lag (more like being in Denver for a day versus sitting on-top of Pike’s Peak mountain). I just came back on Delta from Berlin and Amsterdam to Florida. Great flight but old 767. Several days of jet-lag. It’s not just time zones like many think; it’s the effect on the body of 9 hour or longer flights at 10,000 feet. Love Delta but wish they… Read more »

Nate Dogg

This article FALLS at the 1st comparison. Max seats for both types 440??? Clearly you have been referencing Wikipedia. The max seating for the A350-900 is 440. The A350-1000 is 5.5 metres longer than the 787-10 and therefore will fit an extra 7 rows at 9 abreast over the 787-10. That equates to 63 more passengers in all economy. I will leave it there. If you get the 1st thing wildly wrong there is no point going forward reading the rest.

Eliran

Nicholas, I have a question for if its OK by you: Assume that you are an airline owner that wish to offer a premium comfort aircraft for passengers – which means an aircraft with 2 class seats only: 1) business class with around 45 seats; 2) all the rest – a premium economy seats with 38 inch pitch (no regular economy class, very similar to the Singapore airlines a350-900ulr) . The maximum range of the routes will be up to 13,000 km. Witch type of aircraft will be the most cost efficient, fuel efficient, safe and better for an airline… Read more »