In one of my previous articles, I compared the Airbus (OTCPK:EADSF/OTCPK:EADSY) A350-900 with the Boeing (NYSE:BA) 747-400 and a reader pointed out that I should be comparing the Airbus A350-900 with the Boeing 787 instead of comparing it with a 50-year-old 747 concept. Although the comparison was a valid one since I was addressing the upcoming Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) fleet renewal, I will make the comparison between the Airbus A350-900 and the Boeing 787.
This comparison is an interesting one to make for airlines that are looking to replace the Boeing 777-200ER.
In this analysis (which estimates the empty weights for the Airbus A350-900 to be 145 and 131 tonnes for the Boeing 787-10), I will consider a 6,000 nm mission in maximum configuration. For this comparison, I will use the maximum configuration in 3-class since a lot of airlines adopted a denser configuration for the Boeing 777-200ER.
Table 1: Configuration used for the analysis
Approximating the empty mass for the Boeing 787-10
It is useful to actually look at the effects of stretching the aircraft, instead of guessing the empty weight of the Boeing 787-10.
On the aluminum Boeing 767, a stretch of the airframe meant an addition of 930 kg per meter. For the CFRP fuselage of the Boeing 787, this will be less and is approximated to be somewhere in the region of 750 kg per meter. Taking into account the increase in fuel capacity, another 1,000 kg is added to hold the additional fuel, I approximated an empty weight for the Boeing 787-10 that is around 128 tonnes. Adding margin of 3 tonnes (2.5%) to account for the rough scaling method used gives an empty weight of 131 tonnes.
The general characteristics look as shown in Figure 1:
Figure 1: General characteristics Boeing 787-10 versus Airbus A350-900 (Source: Dhierin-Perkash Bechai)
Implementing this into the model gives the following result for a 7,000 nm mission:
Figure 2: Comparison Boeing 787-10 versus Airbus A350-900 (Source: Dhierin-Perkash Bechai)
As can be seen for a 6,000 nm trip, the Boeing 787-10 seems to be performing better. The lower aerodynamic and propulsive efficiency are compensated by the increased capacity and the lower weight of the Boeing 787-10.
The fuel costs per seat-mile are $0.042 for the A350-900 and $0.039 for the Boeing 787-10.
On a wider range, the fuel consumption numbers for both aircraft are as follows:
Figure 3: Comparison Boeing 787-10 versus Airbus A350-900 on a wider range (Source: Dhierin-Perkash Bechai)
Boeing claimed 8% lower seat-mile costs and 4% lower trip fuel compared to the A350-900. Boeing also seemed to be claiming to have 10% lower fuel costs per seat. My analysis shows that the trip fuel is 4.5% lower but the seat-mile costs are only 7% lower.
Udvar-Hazy, CEO of Air Lease Corp. (NYSE:AL), also stated that the Boeing 787-10 is better than the A350-900, but advantages are not as big as portrayed by Boeing.
In the end, it is not all about fuel burn figures and estimates, but also about passenger comfort and that is where Airbus seems to be having a huge advantage with its aircraft.
Airbus seems to be offering a higher level of passenger comfort, especially in economy class. This can make a big difference. The Airbus A350-900 in 9 seat abreast configuration has a seat width of 18 inches versus 17.5 inches for the Boeing 787-10.
So airlines have to make a decision:
Either they go for an airplane with bigger range and better passenger comfort, the Airbus A350-900, or they choose the Boeing 787-10.
In the end that remains a trade off airlines have to make.
- Due to its lower weight, the Boeing 787-10 is more fuel efficient than the Airbus A350-900
- However, advantages are not as big as claimed by Boeing
- Airbus offers better passenger comfort, which might be a reason to choose the Airbus A350-900 over the Boeing 787-10
- Airlines looking for efficiency will buy the Boeing 787-10; airlines that need range rather than the few % in efficiency and capacity will buy the Airbus A350-900
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