Boeing 737 vs. Airbus A320: A Showdown of the Two Most Popular Narrowbodies

Boeing 737 vs. Airbus A320: A Showdown of the Two Most Popular Narrowbodies

If you plan to fly on a short-haul flight, chances are high that you will find yourself on an aircraft from either the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 family. After all, with over 10,000 737s built and almost 10,000 A320s (and A318s, A319s, etc.) built, they are the two best-selling airliners in history.

In this article, I’ll compare these two narrowbodies from a number of different viewpoints just like I did with the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 before.

So, let’s get the 737 vs. A320 battle started!

 

History

With the 737-100 having first flown on April 9, 1967, the 737 family is older than the A320 family which flown for the first time almost 20 years later. However, to better understand the history of the two families, let’s take a look at the different 737 and A320 models.

The 737 family can be divided into four separate series (or generations), two of which are no longer in production:

SeriesModels Included (* Planned)First FlightLast Delivery
Original737-100, 737-200April 9, 19671988
Classic737-300, 737-400, 737-500February 24, 19842000
Next Generation737-600, 737-700, 737-800, 737-900February 9, 1997In Production
MAX737 MAX 7*, 737 MAX 8, 737 MAX 9, 737 MAX 10*January 29, 2016In Production

On the other hand, the A320 family includes only two generations of airliners, both of which are still in production:

SeriesModels IncludedFirst FlightLast Delivery
A320ceoA318, A319, A320, A321February 22, 1987In Production
A320neoA319neo, A320neo, A321neoSeptember 25, 2014In Production

As you can tell by looking at the tables above, the A320ceo series was introduced by Airbus as its response to Boeing’s 737 Classic series. And, Boeing’s new 737 MAX series was its response to the revamped A320neo series.

One more thing worth mentioning here is that while the 737 is the older of the two families, the A320 was the aircraft that pioneered the use of fly-by-wire technology in airliners.

Airbus A320 Fly-by-Wire
Airbus A320 was the first airliner featuring fly-by-wire technology.

 

Range

All of the models in the 737 and A320 families are primarily designed for short- to medium-haul routes. Their exact range, though, depends on the exact model (and even sub-variant of that model) as well as whether the airframe has winglets installed or not).

I’m not going to get into too much detail here. But, I’ll introduce the models with the shortest and the longest range in each of the four series (737NG, 737 MAX, A320ceo, and A320neo) that are still in production.

Let’s start with the ones with the longest range:

SeriesModelRange
737 Next Gen737-6003,235 nm (5,991 km)
737 MAX737 MAX 73,850 nm (7,130 km)
A320ceoA320 with Sharklets3,750 nm (6,945 km)
A320neoA321XLR4,700 nm (8,700 km)

And, below are the models with the shortest range:

SeriesModelRange
737 Next Gen737-8002,935 nm (5,436 km)
737 MAX737 MAX 103,300 nm (6,110 km)
A320ceoA3183,100 nm (5,741 km)
A320neoA320neo3,500 nm (6,500 km)

To sum up the above, the shortest-range aircraft of all the compared models is the Airbus A318. The longest-range one is the A321XLR – the extra long range version of the A321neo. With a range of 4,700 nautical miles, it can fly non-stop from London all the way to the US West Coast or Russian Far East.

Boeing 737-600 Range
The relatively rare 737-600 has the longest range of 737 Next Generation models.

 

Capacity

The 737 family and A320 family aircraft can carry anywhere between about 150 and 220 passengers depending on the model. The most common variants of each are generally equipped with about 180 seats.

Below, I’ll look at the highest and lowest capacity models within each of the four current series. The number I’ll take a look at is exit limit – the maximum number of passengers an airplane is certified to carry.

The table below lists the highest capacity models:

SeriesModelExit Limit
737 Next Gen737-900220 passengers
737 MAX737 MAX 10230 passengers
A320ceoA321230 passengers
A320neoA321neo244 passengers

The lowest capacity models are as follows:

SeriesModelExit Limit
737 Next Gen737-600 and 737-700149 passengers
737 MAX737 MAX 7172 passengers
A320ceoA318136 passengers
A320neoA319neo160 passengers

Generally, the smaller versions of the A320 and 737 families can fly further. However, there are some exceptions – most notably the A321XLR – which is the longest-range aircraft in this article, yet has high capacity.

Airbus A321 Exit Limit
Airbus A321neo has the highest exit limit out of all the 737 and A320 models.

 

Production

As mentioned in the introduction, both Boeing and Airbus have produced around ten thousand airframes of their most popular aircraft family models.

More 737s than A320 family models were produced in total. However, more A320ceo aircraft are in service today than there are 737NG aircraft. Similarly, the A320neo is outperforming the 737MAX – both due to having been introduced to the market earlier as well as due to Boeing’s recent problems with the MAX series.

As far as annual deliveries are concerned, Airbus has been outperforming Boeing (with an exception of one or two years) since the early 2000s.

Boeing 737-800 Popularity
The most popular of the compared aircraft is the 737-800.

 

Price

Finally, let’s see how all of the above translates into price.

The below are list prices that most airlines don’t end up paying as they might get discounts based on the number of airframes ordered, the relationship they have with the manufacturer, and so on. However, they are good enough for comparison purposes.

First, let’s take a look at the list prices of the 737 family – both Next Generation as well as MAX:

ModelNext GenMAX
737-700 / MAX 7$89.1 million$99.7 million
737-800 / MAX 8$106.1 million$121.6 million
737-900ER / MAX 9$112.6 million$128.9 million
737 MAX 10N/A$134.9 million

Second, let’s take a look at the list prices of the various A320ceo and A320neo models:

Modelceoneo
A318$77.4 millionN/A
A319 / A319neo$92.3 million$101.5 million
A320 / A320neo$101.0 million$110.6 million
A321 / A321neo$118.3 million$129.5 million

As you can see Airbus lists its latest generation gets at about 10% more than their older counterparts. Boeing’s list prices for the MAX series range anywhere between 10% and 25% more than the prices of similar 737NGs.

When it comes to comparing the two manufacturers, there are some categories of aircraft where the Airbus options are cheaper than Boeing, and there are some where it’s the other way around.

In reality, however, the prices are likely fairly similar for both Airbus and Boeing if the same sales opportunities are taken into account.

737 vs. A320 Price
Considering that both Airbus and Boeing compete for the same customers, they oftentimes sell their aircraft for way below their list price.

 

Boeing 737 vs. Airbus A320: Summary

Overall, both the 737 and A320 are aircraft that make large part – and in the short-haul sector, the vast majority of – today’s commercial air travel possible.

With more than 10,000 737 family aircraft and almost 10,000 A320 family aircraft produced to date, no other airliner family comes anywhere near the production volume of the two. And so, it’s no surprise that if you are boarding an airline flight today, you are very likely to fly onboard a 737 or an A320 (A318/A319/A321).

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