The A380 vs. the 787? The Whale Jet vs. the Dreamliner? Who wins this fascinating battle between the two most talked-about aircraft models in the sky. Both have their strongpoints and both have their weaknesses.
The A380 “Super Jumbo” typically costs around $414m per unit. It rises to 80ft in height, has a 21.5ft cabin width on the main deck and 19ft on the upper deck, and has a whopping 261ft wingspan. It can accommodate a maximum of 853 passengers in a single class configuration or, more likely, 644 passengers in a 2 class configuration. The Airbus A380 can reach a maximum speed of 634mph (Mach 0.96) and has a range of 9,755 miles. Some airlines think the A380 is too large and too heavy for their needs, so Airbus are responding by building a lighter version, which has a significantly reduced maximum flying range, but will use much less fuel, making it more economical for airlines to operate.
The B787 Dreamliner typically costs around $211m per unit. It rises to 55ft in height, has an 18ft cabin width, and has a 197ft wingspan. It can accommodate a maximum of 381 passengers in a 2 class configuration. A more recent variation of the 787 can accommodate up to 440 passengers and has a maximum loaded range of 9,550 miles, whereas the original variant can fly just 9,030 miles. The B787 Dreamliner has a maximum speed of 593mph (Mach 0.90). While not designed to be a direct rival to the A380, the 787 nevertheless competes with the A340 and A330 members of the Airbus family. That said, many aviation enthusiasts identify the B787 and the A380 as being the two newest and most spectacular aircraft in the sky, so comparison is inevitable.
Relatively few airlines have placed orders for the very expensive Airbus A380, and aside from Emirates, who by far and away have the largest fleet of A380s anywhere in the sky, most airlines are taking things very steady with this aircraft, as the size of it means that airlines will be expected to carry up to 500 passengers per flight in order to cover costs, and in this economic atmosphere, there are very few routes on which this is now possible. Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines in particular have big problems utilising their A380s properly, and it could be argued that neither actually need all 6, as 3 for each of them would be sufficient (for their ultra longhaul flights to Paris and London respectively). It remains to be seen if the troubled Virgin Atlantic will ever actually purchase their A380s despite making an order many years ago. Asiana Airlines and Qantas still have the majority of their A380 orders yet to be delivered, whereas it seems Thai, Malaysia, and China Southern have already completed their spending.
It is interesting to see that to some of the more obscure airlines in the world, such as Icelandair, Royal Brunei, Biman Bangladesh, and Air Astana are investing quite heavily in the B787. Being a much cheaper aircraft than the A380, it allows airlines such as those aforementioned to concentrate on high density routes that may not have been in range on older aircraft such as the B777 or the A330. It’s really cool that Air Niugini of Papua New Guinea have ordered a solitary aircraft – I wonder if they will be sending it to Sydney or Singapore? Of course, the big players in the aviation industry like British Airways, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, and Air France have purchased many B787s themselves in addition to their existing fleet of A380s, so they must be very confident they can utilise them on profitable routes.
One of nicest liveries of the A380 must belong to Qatar Airways, who are expected to begin flying with their Whale Jet in October between Doha and London. Qatar Airways also are a major player with the B787, being one of only 10 airlines to place orders for both. Air New Zealand did not place any orders for the A380, but they do have a very sexy looking livery on their new 787 Dreamliner. Black looks very sleek on thin aircraft like the B787. Please read my analysis of the various liveries on the Dreamliner for more information.
So let’s look at some of the features of the Airbus A380:
One of the benefits of flying on such a large plane is that you cannot feel any mild turbulence. The plane is simply too big and too bulky to be bothered by a bit of “light wind”, so your journey should always be a smooth one on the A380. The sheer scale of the Airbus A380 allows for the airlines flying it to customise it to their own desire. Theoretically, over 800 passengers could fit onboard at any one time, although so far no airline has shown a willingness to do this. Aside from the benefits of the much spacious upper deck, which in itself is a novelty for most people when flying and even requires a separate air bridge over which to board, you can also have self-service bars and lounges in the premium cabins, where you can sit and chat to other passengers or just sit and relax with a glass of champagne as you glide through the clouds! Some airlines, such as Emirates, have really changed the aviation industry for the good with their A380 Shower and Spa, which is available only to first class passengers. Emirates are the only airline to offer passengers the opportunity to have a shower and maybe even receive a massage in the air – for no extra charge! Singapore Airlines have double beds in their A380 first class cabin, which could be construed by some as a great way to join the Mile High Club!
There are plenty of unique design features of the B787 Dreamliner, although it is difficult to show them in pictures. However, one of the biggest design facets of the 787 is the upward curved wingspan, which reduces drag and gives a smoother ride. Also built in to the design of the 787 is a unique filtration system that is said to eliminate (or at least reduce) bacteria and odour in the cabin air, which is a godsend if you’re sitting next to a smelly passenger! The windows on the 787 are also around 30% larger than on other aircraft, and these windows have LED shades that can replicate the sunrise and sunset. These are found all over the aircraft, including in the economy cabins, and are said to reduce jetlag for all customers. Another important feature of the B787 Dreamliner is that the cabin pressure is different to other aircraft in the sky. On the 787, the cabin is pressured to 6000ft, which is 2000ft lower than normal, and this helps the body absorb over 8% more oxygen. So, it is clear that most of the unique design features of the B787 Dreamliner are intended to give its passengers a much smoother and more comfortable flight, and this is why so many airlines are purchasing it for their fleet.
I have been lucky enough to fly on the A380 on numerous occasions, including twice in first class (once with Emirates and once with Singapore Airlines)! I have also flown on the B787 Dreamliner a couple of times, including, again, once in first class with Qatar Airways between Delhi and Doha. Personally, I love the fact that there’s an upper deck on the A380, and where possible, I always try to book myself an economy class seat in the solitary upper deck cabin (not all airlines have an economy cabin on the upper deck). This is the big game changer for me – being able to sit higher off the ground and know there’s another cabin beneath you is a great feeling! The B787 Dreamliner has its benefits too, though, with the entire aircraft designed to give you a smoother ride and to reduce the effects of jetlag upon disembarkation.
Who knows what the future holds for these two amazing aircraft models. The orders for the Airbus A380 have slowed down now, whereas the more versatile B787 Dreamliner seems more popular at the minute. Airlines can fly new routes with the 787 that existing aircraft could not allow them to manage due to maximum range limitations. Yet the prestige of owning the A380 “Super Jumbo” simply won’t go away and there is no sight quite like seeing this behemoth landing on the runway before your eyes! It’s almost as though the other aircraft turn around on the tarmac to watch it happen themselves!