The Boeing 787 and Airbus A320 are different in many respects.
Whilst both are twin-engine aircraft, that is perhaps where the similarities end. Actually, they are also both highly successful aircraft and both are still in production with large order backlogs. The 787, though, is a significantly larger and heavier aircraft than the A320. The 787 is also much newer as it first went into service in 2011, compared to 1988 for the A320.
In this article, I’ll compare these two aircraft from a number of different perspectives, including physical attributes, range, orders, and customers.
The Airbus A320 narrow-body twinjet family first flew commercially more than 30 years ago in 1988. This aircraft received a new lease of life in December 2010 when Airbus announced the A320neo (new engine option), entering service in 2016. With more efficient engines and other efficiency improvements, including sharklets, the A320neo provides improved fuel economy compared to previous A320 variants.
With the introduction of the A320neo, older A320 versions became known as the A320ceo (current engine option). The new engine technology available on the neo aircraft provides airlines with lower operating costs and increased range. The neo engines are also quieter, improving travel comfort in the aircraft cabin.
The first A320 aircraft to be manufactured were classified as A320-100s. Only around twenty A320-100s were produced before Airbus began to roll out A320-200s. The A320-200 offered increased fuel capacity and increased range compared to the A320-100.
The neo version of the A320 began commercial operations in 2016. The neo variant provides two engine choices – CFM International’s LEAP-1A and Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower PW1100G-JM geared turbofan. These more efficient engines and the fuel-saving sharklets on the wingtips bring per-seat fuel improvements of 20%, and longer ranges (up to 500nm) or two tonnes of additional payload.
The A320 variants and their first in-service years are shown in the table below.
|Aircraft Model||First in Service|
The 787 family is available in three variants:
|Aircraft Model||Type||First In Service|
The 787 development was driven by a need to produce more fuel-efficient aircraft. Boeing targeted 20% less consumption than the aircraft that the 787 was to replace, (such as the 767), a carrying capacity of 200 to 300 passengers, and deployment mainly on point-to-point routes of up to 8,500nm (15,700km). The 787 was the first airliner developed with an airframe made mostly from composite materials.
The first 787 was delivered to ANA in 2011. The stretched B787-9 entered service in 2014, also with ANA. The further stretched B787-10 entered service with Singapore Airlines in 2018.
Let’s take a look at some key physical characteristics and see how these two aircraft measure up against each other:
|Aircraft Model||Length/ m||Wingspan/ m||Tail Height/m||Fuselage Width/ m||MTOW/ tonnes|
In all respects, the 787 is a significantly larger and heavier aircraft than the A320. The wider 787 fuselage allows up to nine seats abreast in economy class compared to six seats abreast in the A320.
All 787 variants have relatively long ranges which vary from around 11,700km to 14,000km. With its impressive 330 minutes (5.5 hours) ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) certification, the 787 has proven to be a highly adaptable all-purpose aircraft, and it operates some of the longest direct air routes in the world such as Tokyo-Boston, Los Angeles-Melbourne, and the incredible London-Perth route.
But, the 787 is also deployed by some airlines on some very short routes such as domestic routes in Japan, confirming how versatile this aircraft can be.
The ranges of all of the A320 variants are similar at around 3,400nm. All A320 variants are ETOPS certified for 180 minutes since 2004 (EASA) and 2006 (FAA). ETOPS 180 minutes certification opens up new route possibilities for these narrowbody aircraft such as London – New York, Los Angeles – Honolulu, and Seoul – Darwin.
The ranges of the 787 and A320 variants are shown in the table below:
|A320ceo||3,350nm/6,200km with sharklets|
The table below shows the passenger typical 2-class cabin configuration seating capacities of the 787 variants published by Boeing.
|Model||Passengers (Typical 2-Class Seating)|
The twin-aisle B787 typically has eight or nine seats abreast in economy class (3-2-3, 2-4-2, 3-3-3), with nine seats abreast being the more common configuration. Seat rows can be arranged in four to seven abreast in first or business, e.g. 1–2–1,2–2–2, or 2–3–2. As an example, British Airways 4-class B787s are four abreast in first class (1-2-1), seven abreast in business and premium economy class (2-3-2), and nine abreast in economy class (3-3-3).
Airbus’ typical 2-class and maximum seating capacities for the A320 variants are shown in the table below:
|Aircraft||Typical 2-Class Seating Capacity||Maximum Seating Capacity|
|A320ceo||140 – 170||180|
|A320neo||150 – 180||194|
In practice, we see a variety around these numbers as airlines have fitted out these aircraft in 1-class, 2-class, and 3-class configurations. In a small number of premium cabins, there are lie-flat seats which reduce overall seat density.
Looking at a variety of airlines operating A320 aircraft, actual fitted-out seat numbers typically vary as follows:
|A320||168 – 188||144-186||150-164|
The single-aisle A320 typically offers six seats across each aisle (3-3) in economy and premium economy classes. Where business class is offered, the typical seating layout offers four seats per row (2-2).
Customers and Orders
787 deliveries as of the end of March 2023 totaled 1,048 aircraft and, of these, the split between the three 787 variants is as follows:
- 787-8: 388
- 787-9: 584
- 787-10: 76
To date, the 787-9 accounts for 56% of the total 787 deliveries.
As of the end of March 2023, Boeing had 581 unfulfilled orders for the 787, the majority of which were for the 787-9 (75%). Adding deliveries and unfulfilled orders together, the 787-9 is the most popular 787 variant with a total of 1,019 aircraft, representing 63% of all 787 deliveries and unfulfilled orders combined as of the end of March 2023.
In total, the 787 deliveries and unfulfilled orders at the end of March 2023 were 1,629 aircraft (1,048 deliveries and 581 unfulfilled orders).
The most significant 787 airline customers include United Airlines, All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, Qantas, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Japan Airlines, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, and leasing companies such as International Lease Finance Corporation and Air Lease Corporation.
As of the end of March 2023, an incredible total of 8,752 A320 aircraft have been ordered, of which 6,448 (74%) have been delivered. The majority of this order backlog is for A320neo aircraft as the vast majority of A320ceo orders have now been delivered.
Below is the number of orders and deliveries for the A320ceo and A320neo:
- A320ceo: 4,752 delivered out of 4,763 ordered
- A320neo: 1,696 delivered out of 3,989 ordered
You can see that almost all A320ceo orders have been delivered (99.8%) and the A320 order backlog is mainly for the A320neo (43% of orders delivered).
There are more than 20 organizations that have ordered more than 100 A320 aircraft. The top customer is India’s low-cost airline Indigo with 444 orders (266, 60% delivered).
It is very notable from Airbus’s order book data that many of the A320’s top customers are leasing companies such as NAS Aviation Services, BOC Aviation, and SMBC Capital. Based on Airbus’ figures, leasing companies account for almost one-third of total A320 orders.
787 vs. A320: Summary
The A320 remains a key member of Airbus’ narrowbody commercial aircraft portfolio which competes with similar aircraft manufactured by Boeing and Embraer. The highly-successful long-range 787 replaces Boeing’s older widebody aircraft such as the 767 and competes head-to-head with Airbus’s widebody A350.
Both the 787 and the A320 benefit commercially from ETOPS certification, with the 787’s impressive 330-minute certification significantly in excess of the A320’s more modest 180 minutes.
Both the 787 and the A320 are in full production with large order backlogs. The number of A320 orders far outweigh those of the 787 (by almost four times). However, this is not that surprising given the different markets that they serve and the more than two decades of age difference between these two aircraft types.