The McDonnell Douglas MD-12 vs The Airbus A380 – A Comparison


In a previous article, we discussed how McDonnell Douglas’ double-decker MD-12 would have compared to the Boeing 747 (it’s competitor at the time). But had it been built, it would have shared the skies with today’s supermassive Airbus A380.

An artist rendering of the McDonnell_Douglas_MD-12. Photo: Wikimedia

How would it compare with the Airbus double-decker? Let’s explore.

What was the McDonnell Douglas MD-12

The McDonnell Douglas MD-12 was an answer to the same problem that is consistently vocalized by airports and airlines alike. Airports can only land so many planes in a day (just look at how much a landing slot at Heathrow costs) and if airlines can’t land more planes, the solution is to build bigger aircraft.

Thus the MD-12 was proposed. A four-engine, double-decker aircraft that would operate very much in the same way as the A380.

McDonnell Douglas
A computer-generated model of the MD-12. Photo: Wikimedia

How does it compare to the Airbus A380?

If we were to compare the MD-12 to the A380-800 side by side, here’s how it would look:

  • The MD-12 could carry 430 passengers in a long-haul configuration (3-class) or 511 passengers in an all-economy configuration (1-class). It would have flown 7,170 nmi (9,200 mi, 14,825 km). The MD-12 would be 63 meters long if built.
  • The A380-800 could carry 555 passengers in a three-class configuration (Specifically listed as 22 first-class passengers, 96 business class passengers and 437 economy passengers) or a massive 853 passengers in an all-economy configuration. It has a range of 14,800 km / 8,000 nm (although there were some range improvements on the drawing board. The A380 is 73 meters long.

Comparing the passengers, we can see that bigger A380 can carry more passengers thanks to the virtue of being longer. But what is surprising is the number of business class passengers the A380 is recommended to carry. Whilst no specific configuration for the MD-12 was ever planned, we can imagine it might have mirrored the later A380 design. But with less room onboard, airlines would have planned less communal spaces such as bars, lounges or perks like showers.


Considering the range, the A380 has the advantage of better engine technology. It is not outside the realm of possibility that the MD-12 would have been able to match the A380 with an engine swap (or improvements like winglets).

Overall, the A380 surpassed the MD-12 in size, passengers and range.

Asiana Airlines Airbus A380 Engine Failure
An Asiana Airlines A380. Photo: tjdarmstadt via Wikimedia

What if it had been built?

The more interesting question is, however, what if the MD-12 had been built? What impact would it have had on the market? Would Airbus go on to even build the A380?


We know that American carriers were never impressed by the economics of the A380, but perhaps with influence from McDonnell Douglas, they would have been convinced to have a few. We might have seen American Airlines MD-12s in the sky and heard all about their exclusive MD-12 first class.

Additionally, if the MD-12 had been a big success, would have McDonnell Douglas ever merged with Boeing? Perhaps today we would be in a world with three major commercial aerospace manufacturers, Airbus, Boeing, and McDonnell Douglas.

In the end, the MD-12 would have likely suffered the same fate as the A380. Too expensive, too big and too uneconomical to run.

What do you think? Which do you think is better? Let us know in the comments.