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

Edited: 24th October 2018 – Added in a section regarding maintenance and fuel efficiency

You can’t name a more competitive pair of companies than Boeing and Airbus, and they are forever trying to out do each other around the world.

Boeing is currently schmoozing Korean Air with 777X’s whilst Airbus sneaks around china tempting Boeing clients.

Both have flagship planes, and none is more published than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350.

But which is the best? Let’s find out.

Airbus A350-1000

An Airbus A350-1000 takes flight

Which has been more popular?

Judging by the pure sale numbers of the two types (Boeing 787 at 1,398 orders and over 700 delivered / Airbus A350 at 890 orders and 203 deliveries), we can see that the industry prefers the Boeing 787.

But as there are three variants of the 787 and only two of the A350, one has to take this as a grain of salt. Plus, the Boeing 787 started deliveries in 2011, three years before the Airbus A350.

Airbus vs Boeing

An older graphic above. The A350-800 has been discontinued and buyers asked to upgrade to the larger capacity versions.

So whilst Boeing has been first to market, has Airbus been able to improve on their original concept?

How will we compare the planes?

We will rank the two planes on several different factors in the chart below. We will think from the mindset of an airline, were 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.

We will also be comparing the most modern versions, the 787-10 vs A350-1000.

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.

Airbus vs Boeing

Some critics might suggest its better to compare the Boeing 777X vs the Airbus A350-1000, but as the 777X does not fly yet it would not be a fair test.

Boeing 777x

The Boeing 777X

Boeing 787 vs Airbus A350

Let’s compare them head to head.

ModelAirbus A350-1000Boeing 787-10
Cockpit crewTwoTwo
Seating, 2-class366/369 (54B+315Y)330 (32B + 298Y)
Seating, 1-class387440
Max capacity440440
Overall length73.78 m / 242.7 ft224 ft (68.28 m)
Wing64.75 m / 212.43 ft span197 ft 3 in (60.12 m) span
Overall height17.08 m / 56 ft 0 in55 ft 10 in (17.02 m)
Fuselage5.96 m / 19.7 ft width, 6.09 m / 19.98 ft height18 ft 11 in (5.77 m), height: 19 ft 6 in (5.94 m)
Cabin width5.61 m / 18 ft 5 in18 ft 0 in (5.49 m)
Fuel capacity158,791 L (41,948 US gal)33,384 US gal / 126,372 L
124,651 kg (274,808 lb)223,673 lb / 101,456 kg
Cargo capacity44 LD3 or 14 pallets40 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);
Range15,600 km / 8,400 nmi11,910 km / 6,430 nmi
Takeoff (MTOW, SL, ISA)2,600 m (8,500 ft)9,100 ft (2,800 m)
Service ceiling41,450 ft (12,630 m)43,000 ft (13,100 m)
Engines (2×)Rolls-Royce Trent XWBGeneral Electric GEnx-1B or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000
Maximum thrust431.5 kN / 97,000 lbf76,000 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, they can fix the same maximum amount on board, however, and realistically, neither would operate with 440 on board. Winner: Airbus A350 

Cabin Size: Thanks to the bigger size of the plane, the Airbus A350 has an extra 10cm on board for passengers to enjoy. Naturally, 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: This is where it gets interesting. Whilst both the planes cruise at the same time, Boeing 787 can actually fly faster than the Airbus. Getting to their destination quicker and thus earning themselves a win. Winner: Boeing 787

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

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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?

787-9

The Boeing 787-9

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 are not present (From 2016).

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.

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.

Who is the best?

Just from reading above you would realize that the Airbus A350 has the 787 beat in passenger numbers, range and fuel capacity, whilst the Boeing just gets there a little faster.

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 you care about is price and speed.

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 787

A United Airlines 787 Dreamliner

So who is the real winner? Depends on what you need it for.
Be sure to read our article, Boeing 787 vs Airbus A330neo.
Edit: 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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