In my previous article I wrote that there probably would be no role for the Boeing 7478I in the battle of the jumbos. However, recent talks between Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Emirates spark a little bit of hope. Boeing and Emirates have opened up talks about the purchase of the 7478I. Boeing is desperately looking for customers for the Boeing 7478I, even buying back the older Boeing 747400 to sell the newer Boeing 7478I.
On the other hand Emirates, the biggest customer of the Airbus (OTCPK:EADSF) A380, is looking for a more fuel efficient Airbus A380 to cut the fuel costs of the wide body fleet.
The talks between Boeing and Emirates might have a couple of effects:
 Boost for the Boeing 7478I
 Introduction of a more fuel efficient Airbus A380
 If a modified Airbus A380 will enter service, the boost for the 7478I order might be the last one.
Although I think that Emirates eventually will order some Boeing 7478Is to increase pressure on Airbus, it is meaningful to actually look at the current numbers available to see whether the 7478I is actually a good fleet member.
One has to note that the fuel consumption calculations are rather complex and various characteristics such as turbofan characteristics, cruise speed and altitude, passenger configuration, operational items and trip distance determine the overall fuel efficiency. Additionally Boeing provides numbers that show the 7478I as the clear winner, while Airbus does the same for its model. So to give a complete image fuel consumption numbers from various sources will be provided and analyzed.
First of all it might be worth to look at the main characteristics for both aircraft and make some preliminary calculations:
Â  Airbus A380 
Airbus A380 (Emirates, Ultra Long Range) 
Airbus A380 (Emirates, Long Range) 
Boeing 7478I 
Passengers, 3 class [] 
555 
489 
517 
467 
Fuel [L] 
323546 
239000 

Range [km] 
15700 
15000 
14815 

Fuel efficiency* [L/passenger/100 km] 
3.71 
4.41 
4.17 
3.45 
* Preliminary calculation, not taking into account reserve fuels, loitering and taxi fuel etc.
As can be seen the preliminary numbers show that for a maximum range destination, fully loaded the 7478I is favorable, but one has to take into account that these are only preliminary, very basic, calculations and the trip distance, cruise altitude and number of passengers vary per route.
Reported numbers
Airbus:
Airbus presented the following chart back in 2010:
Figure 1: Airbus' comparison between the A380800, Boeing 747400, Boeing 7478I and Boeing 777300ER (Source: here)
A few remarks could be made about this chart:
 Airbus states there are 525 (or 555 passengers), which is true, but most airlines don't operate the A380 in such a dense configuration. Passenger seats vary from 407 to 538. The "average" per operator is 487 seats. So the most common configuration probably is assumed to be the 489 seating configuration. This means that if Airbus was to calculate with 489, the fuel per trip goes down (less passengers to transport), but the number of seats decreases. This means that probably the fuel burn per seat goes up. Since this chart uses the A380800 as a datum, it makes the calculations on the 7478I non valid.
 The Boeing 7478I has an average of 405 seats. The 7478I can actually transport up to 467 passengers, which makes the assumption of 405 passengers a hard one to justify.
Although I believe Airbus did some indepth calculations on the fuel burn, part of its "better performing" A380 is based on accounting for 525 instead of 487 passengers (+38) and assuming 405 instead of 467 passengers for the 7478I (62). Operators who want to use the 7478I as a competitor for the Airbus A380 probably will go for a dense configuration on the 7478I!
Boeing:
Boeing on the other hand shows this chart:
Figure 2: Boeing's comparison between the A380800, Boeing 747400, Boeing 7478I (Source: here)
This chart shows that the Airbus A380 has a 6% better fuel efficiency than the Boeing 747400, but that the Boeing 7478I is even 16% more efficient than the Boeing 747400 or 11% more efficient than the Airbus A380.
Both charts show relative performance instead of numerical (verifiable) results to market the product.
Some numbers that can be found on the internet for the Boeing 7478I and Airbus A380 are 2.8 L/passenger/100 km and 2.9 L/passenger/100 km, respectively. This would point at the Boeing 7478I being the more fuel efficient airplane.
Emirates:
Emirates only operates the Airbus A380 (in two configurations) and claims a fuel efficiency of 3.1 L/passenger/100 km. This is well below the preliminary calculation I made in Table 1, but above the number of 2.9 L per kilometer per 100 passengers.
Lufthansa
Lufthansa, which uses the Boeing 7478I in 2 configurations (362 and 386 seats) and the Airbus A380 in 1 configuration (526 seats), published numbers for both the Boeing 7478 and the Airbus A380800:
Airbus A380800: 3.4 L/passenger/100 km
Boeing 7478I: 3.5 L/passenger/100 km
These numbers show a minor advantage for the Airbus A380800. It has to be noted though that Lufthansa uses the Boeing 7478I as a direct replacement for the Boeing 747400, meaning that the used configuration limits the fuel efficiency of the airplane. So although the Airbus A380800 seems to be more efficient, the margin is little and is also affected by the configuration used by Lufthansa.
If the Boeing 7478I would be used as a direct competitor of the Airbus A380800, I think there might be a chance the 7478I is the better choice.
So is the 7478I a good alternative?
Now zooming out again and looking at Emirates trying to force Airbus to come up with more fuel efficient engines on the Airbus A380, one can conclude that the fuel burns of both aircraft are actually pretty close and depend pretty much on the configuration used by the airline.
So although Emirates probably is intending to place an order for the Boeing 7478I to put pressure on Airbus, the Boeing 7478I isn't a bad choice. For Boeing a big order means that it has enough orders in backlog to produce the Boeing 7478I until the end of the decade.
If Emirates succeeds in forcing Airbus to refit the Airbus A380 with more fuel efficient engines then this might be the last boost for the Boeing 7478I, but in that case Emirates and Boeing made use of the duopoly that Airbus and Boeing have, while Airbus will be forced to equip the A380 with a turbofan similar to that of the Airbus A350. In the end all parties involved might profit, but Boeing really could use an order for the Boeing 7478I.
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