It might seem obvious for anyone who has spent a lot of time around aircraft. But for others, aircraft identification may not come so easily. With many Boeing and Airbus aircraft taking similar overall shapes and competing models having similar sizes, how might one distinguish between a Boeing aircraft and an Airbus?
Before we begin, it should be noted that there’s no distinct feature that runs through ALL airbus or ALL Boeing jets. It really does depend on the size of the jet and can also vary by generation. Sometimes even the exact same model can have different wings as sometimes winglets are an add-on option.
The easiest jets
For most people, the easiest aircraft to tell apart are the largest commercial passenger offerings from Boeing and Airbus: the 747 and A380, respectively. Both are massive, having four engines, and have two decks. However, that’s where the similarities end.
The dead giveaway is the iconic 747 ‘hump’- whether it’s an old 747-400 or the newer 747-8, the upper deck only runs part-way down the fuselage (although the -8’s upper deck is longer). The A380, on the other hand, has an upper deck that runs the length of the fuselage- from nose to tail.
Winglets for these jumbos are unique as well. The 747-400 has a short, angled (“canted”) winglet while the A380 has a winglet that is vertical/90 degrees to the wing, extending both up and down (it’s much easier to show in a photo than to describe with words!). The 747-8 actually has no winglets at all but rather a raked wingtip. Its four engines have nacelles with serrated edges.
For the widebody twin-engine jets, it’s not as easy, but there are still a few easy tricks. The 787’s nose is fairly unique in its roundness and the way it blends seamlessly into the cockpit. The Dreamliner also doesn’t have any winglets- instead, it has raked wings, which bend significantly upwards. The 787 is currently the only widebody twinjet that has the distinct GEnx engines with serrated nacelles (as seen with the 747-8).
Like the 787, the 777 is void of winglets and can be identified by the way its fuselage comes to a square end at the back. The 777 also has six wheels for each main landing gear. The Boeing 767 can be clearly identified as the only widebody with winglets that curve up with an “L” shaped bend. Unfortunately, not all 767s have this.
The A330 “classic” is set apart by its ‘canted’ winglets- this is something you’ll also see with the much smaller A220. It’s the same type of winglet you’ll see on the 747, but there are enough other distinguishing features with the 747 that there won’t be any confusion between the two.
The A350 and A330neo have fairly distinct winglets that curve gracefully out from the wing with no sharp angles. The A350s winglets curve up a little more. Both widebody cockpits of both aircraft feature a dark border/frame around the windows not seen with Boeing jets.
For narrowbodies, it can be a little tougher – especially with a fair bit of variety between generations of 737s and also various options of the A320 family.
The 737s nose comes across as fairly distinct, coming to much more of a point than any A320 family aircraft. The A320 family of jets have noses that are much more rounded.
The 737s side cockpit windows are also angled up at the bottom, which is also carried across all generations. The newer 737s have a unique split scimitar winglet not found on any Airbus aircraft.
Many Boeing 737s and Airbus A321s have blended wingtips and therefore, may not be the best feature to help distinguish aircraft. The nose is probably the best feature to tell the two manufacturers apart.
Hopefully, this gives you a basic introduction into the most noticeable unique physical characteristics of certain Airbus and Boeing jets.
Did we miss anything? How do you tell the difference between Airbus and Boeing jets? Let us know in the comments!