The Boeing 787 changed the game for low-cost-carriers. Norwegian Air Shuttle was able to drastically cut fares across the Atlantic thanks to the aircraft’s low fuel consumption and fantastic aerodynamics. But Airbus has since answered with its own amazing aircraft, the A350. With news that French Bee will be deploying an A350-1000 as a low-cost-carrier, does this mean that the Boeing 787 is beaten?
This analysis may have some mathematics involved and, as I did not study aviation at university, please treat this article as entertainment, not scientific fact.
How will we compare the two?
To be as fair as possible, we will be looking at the highest density configurations of both the Boeing 787-10 and Airbus A350-1000. We will not be looking at passenger comforts but just how cheap we can make these aircraft fly and how many people we can cram onboard.
This is how the airframe hardware compares:
- Boeing 787-10 – A maximum exit limit of 440 passengers to a range of 11,910 km (6,430 nautical miles)
- Airbus A350-1000 – A maximum exit limit of 480 passengers to a range of 16,100 km (8,700 nautical miles).
Looking at the passenger numbers we have the following:
- Boeing 787-10 – 440 seats at 32 inches of seat pitch
- Airbus A350-1000 – 480 seats with 31 inches of seat pitch.
Likely the Boeing 787-10 could fit a few more passengers onboard, but according to the specifications, it may affect the safety of the passengers (its exit limit it 440) thus it won’t carry more than 440.
Fuel burn per seat
Now we know how many passengers are sitting onboard with their knees buckled and fellow passengers breathing down their necks, how much is it going to cost us in fuel?
Estimating a distance of around 5,000 nautical miles, each aircraft would have around this much fuel burn per KM:
- Boeing 787 – 5.63 kg/km (20.0 lb/mi)
- Airbus A350 – 6.03 kg/km (21.4 lb/mi)
Calculating for our monster of an aircraft, estimating that each passenger and their baggage weighs 100kg, we get:
- Boeing 787 – 2.31 L/100 km (102 mpg‑US)
- Airbus A350 – 2.39 L/100 km (98 mpg‑US)
Thus we can assume that the Boeing 787-10 actually will be more efficient than the A350-1000.
Bottom line – which will make more money?
Will better fuel efficiency mean that the Boeing 787 moves ahead? Or will more passengers (40 more) mean that the A350 will be better?
If fuel is cheap, the A350-1000 will beat off the Boeing 787-10 thanks to having more passengers. But if fuel is expensive, then things get a bit more complex. At around $200 per ticket, an extra 40 passengers is only $8,000 on top. Is this enough to make a difference?
If we assumed a fuel cost of $9.05 per nautical mile for the Boeing 787-10 and an Airbus A350-1000 cost of $9.27 (2017 Prices) and spread that amongst the passengers we get:
- Boeing 787 – 440 passengers = $0.020 per nautical mile per seat
- Airbus A350 – 480 passengers = $0.019 per nautical mile per seat
The A350 is barely ahead of the Boeing 787, despite the difference in seat layouts.
Essentially, the Airbus aircraft will only be able to undercut the Boeing 787 by a few dollars for a long-haul route, and that’s assuming that the aircraft is 100% full. But don’t forget that the Airbus A350-1000 has a much bigger range and that may make all the difference for some.
Now, if we compared the Boeing 777X we might get a very different answer. But we won’t know how that flies until it does!
We know that French Bee has moved ahead with their A350-1000 all-economy plans, but so far not many have suggested the same with a Boeing 787-10… yet.
What do you think? Do you have a better idea of the numbers? We would love to see your own assumptions in the comments below.