With air traffic forecast to triple over the next 25 years, Airbus is betting on its super jumbo A380 to reduce traffic congestion. With at least 34% more seats on the A380 than on Boeing's ageing 747, the company argues that its plane will alleviate busy routes and congested airports. Boeing, on the other hand, says that passengers prefer point-to-point travel rather than connecting flights from busy hubs.
Its new 787 Dreamliner is sleek, fast and able to travel long distances between mid-size airports. At a capacity of 250 passengers, the experience is likely to be less daunting than on the A380, which can carry up to 800. Each company is keen to break into the other's market: Airbus is developing the A350 XWB, a mid-size aircraft derived from the successful A320, while Boeing has produced a stretched version of its star 747, the 747-8. Both 'challengers' are adaptations of previous models, thus limiting operational risks.
HOW THEY MEASURE UP
Dimensions (m), including a Boeing 747 for comparison
A380 B787 B747
Wing span 80 60 64
Length 73 57 71
Height 24 17 19
Airbus has suffered delays in delivering the A380, mainly because the aircraft is assembled in Toulouse, France, but its parts are imported from five plants across Europe. Coordinating this logistical web has been the overriding challenge for Airbus at a technical level, and also for EADS, its parent company, at leadership level. The delays are set to cost Airbus EUR4.8 billion ($6.1 billion) over the next four years.
The company also says it will not make a profit until it has sold 420 A380s, up from its previous estimate of 270. However, Boeing went through a similar crisis in the 1990s and has its own technical challenges with the 787. "Leadership does not remain with one party forever with aviation, but tends to ebb and flow," says Zafar Khan, analyst at Societe Generale.