Boeing or Airbus?
How aircraft rivalry is changing air travel.
The worldwide travel market has expanded considerably from just over 400,000 travellers in 1973 to 5.56 billion in 2019. Fighting for market share in this booming industry are two global commercial aircraft manufacturers: Boeing and Airbus.
“Most travellers do not usually have a specific preference between Boeing and Airbus aircraft when booking flights. Factors like ticket price, flight schedules, airline reputation, and total travel time tend to be more influential in their decision-making process,” explains Mr. Ciarán Kelly, GM of Middle East and Africa at FCM. However, he adds that some passengers may prefer specific aircraft models because of factors such as cabin layout, seating comfort, noise levels, or even window size.
Here's how the two manufacturers compare:
1. Comfort and Design
Airbus tends to have a slightly wider fuselage, meaning that the cabin can feel more spacious, potentially offering more comfort, particularly in economy class. On the other hand, some travellers prefer the 787 Dreamliner from Boeing, which has larger windows and a design that reduces jet lag.
The design difference extends to the seat arrangement as well. For instance, on long-haul aircraft, Boeing often uses a 3-3-3 seat configuration, whereas Airbus may use a 3-3-3 or a 3-4-3 layout, which could affect personal space.
2. In-Flight Technology
Both Boeing and Airbus continuously innovate to enhance the passenger experience. This includes better in-flight entertainment systems, cabin lighting, air filtration systems, and noise reduction technology. For example, the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 both boast advancements in these areas, which can contribute to a more enjoyable and comfortable flight.
Both manufacturers have strong safety records, as safety is a top priority in the airline industry. However, high-profile incidents may raise concerns among some passengers. Boeing was long considered the aviation leader, largely due to its popular and best-selling 737 jetliner. Unfortunately, the manufacturer found itself facing significant challenges after two disastrous accidents in 2018 and 2019. It's essential to understand that these incidents are infrequent compared to the total number of flights and that both Boeing and Airbus meet rigorous international safety standards.
In recent years, aviation has come under increased scrutiny for its environmental impact. In 2019 alone, the flight industry generated 900 million tons of carbon emissions, accounting for roughly 2% of total global emissions and 12% of emissions across all transportation sectors. And with world leaders tightening their stances on sustainability initiatives, both Airbus and Boeing have focused their efforts on developing more fuel-efficient, cost-effective aircraft.
In February 2022, Airbus announced its Airbus ZEROe initiative to be zero-emissions by 2023. In partnership with GE Aviation and CFM International, Airbus aims to test a direct combustion engine fuelled by hydrogen. The engine uses fuel cells to convert hydrogen into electricity, which then powers a propeller. In theory, this technology could power 100-passenger aircraft with a range of 1,000 nautical miles. The new fuel cell engine is set to be mounted on the manufacturer’s A380 Superjumbo, with test flights anticipated for 2026.
Boeing followed suit with the release of their own sustainability report in June 2022. The manufacturer aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions at their facilities and encourage the use of 100% SAF (sustainable aviation fuels) in their commercial airplanes by 2030. SAFs – which can be made from non-fossil feedstocks such as grain, waste fats, oils, and greases – can reportedly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by up to 80%.
Like Airbus, Boeing is also continuing their research and development of electric and hydrogen aerospace technology. However, whereas Airbus has focused its efforts on engines, Boeing’s attention is set on making hydrogen more convenient for use.
So, what’s the verdict when choosing between the two?
In February 2023, both Boeing and Airbus received a historic order from Air India (the largest aircraft order ever made). The deal – which is not yet finalised – is estimated by the Wall Street Journal to be worth $85 billion and includes a total of 470 new planes split between the two manufacturers.
Boeing's share of the order includes 220 planes, with 190 of them being 737 MAX jets, 20 being 787 Dreamliners, and 10 being the delayed new 777X line. Airbus, on the other hand, received an order of 250 planes, with 210 being A320neo family of narrow-body planes for domestic use and 40 being A350 wide-body jets for long-haul international flights.
“The jury remains out on which aircraft manufacturer trumps the other,” says Mr Kelly. “What is sure however is that like Coke vs. Pepsi, Ford vs. GM, and other legendary corporate rivalries, the intense competition between Airbus and Boeing will provide the aviation industry with the innovation it needs to thrive in this new, unprecedented territory – one that is evergreen and ever-growing. As such, we can expect to see new aircraft designs, buying patterns, and fuel sources that reflect the changing needs of air travel customers around the world. It's an exciting time for the aviation industry – and Airbus and Boeing are at the forefront of it all.”