Korean Air To Make A Large Widebody Order With The A350 or 777X

Korean Air is about to expand in a big way!

They are planning on placing a huge order for a fleet of new wide-body jets. Their current fleet is starting to show its age, and their leadership team has decided its time for a fleet overhaul!

“We are pleased with our current fleet of Airbus and Boeing, but they are starting to show their age, we have to do a replacement.” – Korean Air President Walter Cho

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Why are they making this large order?

As mentioned above, Korean Air’s current fleet of widebodies is quite old. They have just over a 100 of the craft, and four of their Boeing 747-400s are 21 years old.

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Korean Air 747-8
Korean Air Boeing 747-8 pictured.

Plus, these older widebodies are quite the fuel guzzlers. With newer planes in their fleet and rising oil prices, they could reduce their fuel expenses by quite a bit.

Korean Air is unique in their deployment of wide-body aircraft. Unlike other airlines around the world who only use widebodies on long-haul international routes, Korean Air actually uses the planes on smaller domestic routes, even under an hour!

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Not featured; their routes to Europe.

They are currently looking at either the Boeing 777x or the Airbus A350.

“We have a lot of need for widebodies, We don’t have anything I can share right now, but we’re in the process… The 777X is coming up, and it will be a good replacement for our current 777; and we’re also keeping an open mind toward the A350 as well.” – Walter Cho

But which is the best airplane for Korean Air? Let’s look at the differences between the Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350, paying close attention to the range, seating capacity, list price and how many orders there are on the market (After all, if there are a lot of orders, then Korean Air will have to wait longer to get them!).

For this comparison, we will look at the most modern version of each, the 777X-9 and the A350-1000. Whilst concepts exist for a 777X-10 and A350-1100, as solid specifications don’t exist for them yet (only theoretical) we can’t do a fair comparison.

The Boeing 777X

Boeing 777x
The Boeing 777X

The Boeing 777X has a special place in our hearts as it is the first plane with a very special wing, that folds up!

777x folding wings design is approved by the FFA and classes the plane into a new category.

This is because its wing is so wide that it does not fit into normal airport gates. So unlike asking for airports to change their gate layout (like Airbus did with the A380), they made the wing change size when landed.

Range: 7,525 nmi / 13,940 km

Seating Capacity: 414 (42J + 372Y) in two classes.

List Price: $425.8 million USD

Current orders: 273 orders with the first being delivered in 2020

The Airbus A350

Airbus A350
The Airbus A350

A popular choice for a lot of airlines, the Airbus A350 is been labeled the next big thing in the aviation world. Already delivered to Airlines, the A350 is proven and has been flown already on the worlds longest route.

Some specifications about the A350-1000:

Range: 8,400 nmi / 15,600 km

Seating Capacity: 369 (54B+315Y) in two classes.

List Price: $366.5 million USD

Current orders: 173 orders with the first 7 already delivered.

qatar airways
The first A350-1000 for Qatar Airways departs Toulouse. Photo: Airbus

Our Verdict

Korean Air has declined to give a comment yet about when they will order, nor how many jets they will order, but we believe that the best-suited jet would be 777X.

We believe this is because passenger capacity trumps range. Whilst an argument could be made for the range of the A350-1000, the 777X can handle far more passengers. More passenger capacity means more money and a better competitive advantage.

Most of Korean Air’s routes are well under the range for both aircraft, and thus the airline would be looking towards their bottom line. With a few Boeing 787 Dreamliners already in their fleet, it would be a natural transition to order its bigger cousin (And you can bet that Boeing would match the list price for the A350).

“We’re looking at all options right now, We don’t have a plan yet. But since we already have a 787 fleet, there is a very high possibility we’ll expand our fleet on the 787.” – Walter Cho

We will publish a follow-up article as soon as we know their order!

 

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Dong-Won Seo

I think it will be the 777X. Because Korean Air doesn`t operate aircrafts equipped with Rolls-Royce engines because of maintenance and training costs. So I think they`ll buy the 777X unless Airbus launches an A350neo variant. It has been about 15~20 years after they retired their Fokker 100s, the last aircraft equipped with RR engines that Korean Air operated.