High Density Low Cost Long Haul: An A350-1000 vs 787-10 – What’s Best?

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?

Airbus-a350-1000
The A350-1000 can seat 40 more passengers than the Boeing 787-10, is this a game-changer?. Photo: Clemens Vasters via Flickr

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.

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This is how the airframe hardware compares:

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  • 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).

Passengers

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.

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The Boeing 787-10 might be a worthy opponent. Photo: Eva Air

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.

French Bee
Could the A350 with a dense configuration be the winning move for low-cost carriers? Photo: French Bee

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.

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David G

This assumes that the only cost is fuel. What about insurance/maintenance/crewing costs, airport navigation/landing/ground charges, leasing/depreciation costs, etc?
A bit like comparing a Toyota to a Mercedes car. The fuel costs may favour one but the overall cost per passenger kilometre may reverse the situation over the life of the vehicle.

Henning

Better to compare the 787-10 with the A330neo-900 configured like Cebu Pacific, it has 460 seats in a high dense configuration or a A350-900 with 440 seats. The A350-1000 has around 40% more range than the 787-10, it’s like comparing apple and oranges

Farnsbarns

I think the A350-1000 is a better bet. I really can’t see the need for the 787/10. As far as size goes It fills a gap between the 787/9 and the 777X – 9 which really doesn’t need filling. The 777X – 8 is not necessary either. I think Airbus offers a better range of long haul aircraft than Boeing. If you want a mix of sizes surely small, medium and large is sufficient. A330neo, (200 or 300 according to your needs) A350-900 and A350-1000 do it perfectly.otherwise you end up with a complete bugger’s muddle – like British Airways!

Martin Bateman

Just want to address the seating comparison. It seems like a 10 abreast A350-1000 with a 480 seat limit is definitely going to have some kind of premium economy section involved, which would lift revenue up further over the 787. For reference, the Air Caraibes A350-1000 has a total capacity of 429, including 24 lie flat seats, and 45 premium economy seats. If you convert the 24 lie flat seats to 80 economy then you have a total of 485 seats – over the limit. Also, the Air Caraibes premium economy on the -1000 is 7 abreast, which seems a… Read more »

Jothin Pamon-montri

B787-8/9/10 using the same engines GE90 or RR 1000 while A350-900 has no engine option only RR ( A350-900 and A350 -1000 even are RR power but cannot be mixed and landing gears are different) B787-10 is lighter than A350-1000 therefore landing fee is higher
One import revenue earner is cargo not mention