The Boeing 787 and the Airbus A330neo variants are direct competitors with impressive ranges, operating on some of the world’s longest commercial air routes. The A330 had been flying commercially for 17 years before the 787 came on the scene. Airbus revamped and improved the original A330 variants and created the A330neo in direct response to the impressive 787.
In this article, I look at these two aircraft from a number of different perspectives, so, let’s see how these long-haul, widebody competitors compare in terms of key attributes such as size, seating capacity, range, and orders.
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.
The A330 is available in four main passenger variants as well as a freighter variant:
|Aircraft Model||Type||First In Service|
The A330 was launched alongside the quad jet A340 in 1987. The longer A330-300 was the first variant to enter into service and it took its maiden flight in November 1992. It later entered into service with France’s Air Inter in January 1994. The shorter A330-200 followed shortly after, entering into commercial service in 1998.
The A330 shares much of its airframe design with the early A340 variants, but has a different landing gear configuration because of its lower weight and is shorter (excluding the A340-200). Both the A330 and the A340 use ‘fly-by-wire’ technology with glass cockpits.
In 2014, Airbus announced the A3330neo (new engine option) variants – the A330-800 and A330-900, and the first A330neo (an A330-900) entered service with TAP just over four years later in 2018. The smaller A330-800 entered service with Kuwait Airways two years later in 2020.
The A330neo is a significant upgrade of the original A330 variants that are now called the A330ceo. The A330neo aircraft are equipped with more efficient Rolls Royce Trent 7000 turbofan engines and wing sharklets to offer improved fuel economy compared to the A330ceo aircraft.
Other A330 variants include the A330 MRTT military tanker, the ACJ 330 corporate jet, now available as the ACJ330neo, and the A330P2F converted freighter.
Let’s take a look at some key physical characteristics and see how these two aircraft measure up against each other. These two aircraft are remarkably similar in terms of their main dimensions with the A330 length ranging from 59m to 66m compared to 57m to 68m for the B787. The A330 wingspan ranges from around 60m to 64m compared to a standard 60m for the B787 variants.
Both the A330 and the 787 are classified as FAA Group V aircraft with wingspans between 52m and 65m.
|Aircraft Model||Length/ m||Wingspan/ m||Tail Height/ m||Fuselage Width/ m||MTOW/ tonnes|
All 787 variants have relatively long ranges which vary from around 11,700km to 14,000km.
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 A330 passenger variants have comparable ranges of around 12,000 to 15,000km and so, similar to the 787, can be deployed on some of the world’s longest commercial air routes.
The ranges of the 787 and A330 variants are shown in the table below:
Seat Capacity and Cabin Layout
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)|
Airbus indicates that the A330 variants can carry the following typical numbers of passengers:
- A330-200: 220-260
- A330-300: 250-290
- A330-800: 220-260
- A330-900: 260-300
In practice, airlines have fitted out these aircraft in a wide range of cabin configurations, many with three or even four cabin classes and some with economy class only. Total seat numbers vary widely depending on the proportion of the total aircraft cabin dedicated to premium cabins, and whether flatbed seats are installed in the premium cabins. I found a very dense seating configuration in Cebu Pacific’s A330-900s with all economy class nine seats abreast, and a total of 459 seats.
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).
The twin-aisle A330 typically has eight or nine seats abreast in economy class (2-4-2 or 3-3-3), and seven seats abreast in premium economy (2-3-2). Seat rows can be arranged four to six abreast in business class, e.g. 1–2–1, or 2–2–2. As an example, Virgin Atlantic has 3-class A330-900s with four abreast in Upper Class (1-2-1), seven abreast premium economy class (2-3-2), and eight abreast in economy class (2-4-2).
Customers and Orders
787 deliveries to the end of February 2023 totaled 1,041 aircraft and, of these, the split between the three 787 variants is as follows:
- 787-8: 386
- 787-9: 580
- 787-10: 75
To date, the 787-9 accounts for 56% of the total 787 deliveries.
At the end of February 2023, Boeing had 574 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 1,010 aircraft, representing 63% of all 787 deliveries and unfulfilled orders combined at the end of February 2023.
In total, the 787 deliveries and unfulfilled orders at the end of February 2023 were 1,615 aircraft (1,041 deliveries and 574 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 February 2023, Airbus has received a total of 1,774 orders for the A330, and has delivered 1,562 (88%). So far, the A330-300 is the most popular of the A330 variants accounting for 44% of orders and 50% of deliveries.
The most significant A330 airline customers include Air China, Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, China Southern, Delta Airlines, and Turkish Airlines. The biggest A330 customers are actually the leasing companies such as ILFC and CIT Leasing.
A330 vs. 787: Summary
The A330 and 787 widebodies are physically similar and have similar ranges and so these two aircraft are direct rivals. In fact, the A330neo was Airbus’ direct competitive response to the 787. But the history of the A330 goes way back, with the A330 first entering commercial service in 1994, almost 30 years ago.
The 787 is a much more recent aircraft that has been flying commercially only since 2011. The A330 was given a new lease of life and a significant revamp in 2014 when Airbus decided to launch the A330neo (A330-800 and A330-900).
Both the 787 and the A330neo aircraft are in full production with order backlogs. So far, Boeing has delivered 64% of its 787 total orders, whereas Airbus has delivered 88% of its orders for the A330.
Not surprisingly, given the age of the A330 program, Airbus has received more orders for the A330 than Boeing has received for the 787, but not by much. The A330 has been around for so much longer than the 787, with orders totaling 1,774 as of the end of February 2023. Boeing’s 787 deliveries and unfulfilled orders combined as of the end of February 2023 are a total of 1,615; that’s pretty impressive given the relatively short period since the 787’s launch!