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Airbus A350 versus Boeing 787: differences and many similarities

Airbus A350 versus Boeing 787: differences and many similarities

Posting in Design

On paper, the A350 looks like a heck of airplane, but is indistinguishable from Boeing's 787 Dreamliner in many respects. Here's a comparison.

If you removed its name in the spec sheet, Airbus' forthcoming A350 XWB (eXtra Wide Body) passenger jet could easily be confused with its primary rival, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It will take a while before you can easily distinguish one from the other once they are both regularly in the air.

The A350 will be made from 53 per cent carbon fiber; the 787 is 50 per cent carbon fiber. Both are long range and can fly in excess of 8,000 miles without refueling. Somewhat bigger, the A350 will have 270-440 seats to the 787's is 210-330. Both come in three models although the smallest 787 may be dropped.

A350 or Boeing 787? (answer: A350). credit: Airbus

The A350 promises 25 per cent fuel consumption improvement from its "current long range nearest competitor (it's unclear what plane Airbus is comparing the A350 to on fuel efficiency, but offers it as a replacement for "any [Boeing] 747 operator"); the 787 claims to deliver 15 per cent better fuel efficiency over the similarly-sized (and aged) Boeing 767.

The 787 has 876 orders from 53 customers while the A350 has 505 from 32 customers (about what the 787 had at the same stage in its development). The A350 windows are wider; the 787's are taller.

It goes on and on like that. For the flyer,  you say ToeMAYto, I say ToeMAHto.

Of course, there are major differences.

One area in the A350 that will distinguish it from other passengers jetliners, though, will be the cockpit which will have six "very large LCD displays" comprising the flight information center instead of the 10 found in the A380 super jumbojet (much of the technology in the A350 was hatched in the A380). Solid state electronics in the cockpit also reduce the need for the hundreds of individual circuit breakers typically found in jetliners.

Six "very large" displays in the A350 cockpit. credit: Airbus

Another difference is that the A350 is still on paper. The first one won't roll off the line in Airbus' new Toulouse, France final assembly plant until 2011. Airbus expects to enter the A350 into service in 2013, but if its experience is anything like Boeing's with the 787, add two years to that timetable. Some aviation bloggers say there's hints the schedule is already slipping.

With any luck, Boeing will ship the first 787 to customers in the fourth quarter of this year.

Given the scale of investment, the effort to design jetliners and competiton in the same markets, it stands to reason they are similar in both size and technology. But it doesn't always work that way: Airbus developed the huge and less successful A380 while Boeing concentrated on the more modest 787.

Another major difference is that the biggest model, the A350 1000, will carry up to 100 passengers more than the biggest 787. Boeing's answer to that is the 747-8 Intercontinental, a new model of the world's first jumbojet.

The A350 will be a lot more expensive than the 787. It lists for $225-$285 million; At $150-$205 million, the 787 is a relative bargain. Those prices are usually discounted, but the starting point for the conversation would clearly seem to favor Boeing unless the A350 turns out to be that much better.

Buying something as sophisticated as jetliners, however, isn't just a head-on comparison of price performance. Years of dealmaking includes courtships, politics and occasionally, bribes. Time and sales wise, though, the A350 has to climb much higher to reach cruising altitude than the 787 at this point.

One area where I think Airbus is considerably ahead of Boeing is its web site. Airbus.com is more easier searched and much more visually pleasing. But can that translate into an edge in airplane performance..and sales?

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure