Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 are two of the most popular wide-body aircraft families in service today.
They are both twins, airlines use them on flights of all durations – although primarily on medium- and long-haul flights, and they have been produced in similar numbers.
In this article, I look at them side by side in detail.
Airbus A330 and Boeing 777: The Basics
Before comparing the two types in terms of their specifications and capabilities, comfort, and safety, let’s briefly take a look at some of their basics.
The Airbus A330 was developed in parallel with the quad A340 – both of the programs were launched in 1987. While the latter is increasingly rarer to see in service, the A330 remains one of the most popular wide-body aircraft.
The first variant of the A330 to take-off was the A330-300. It took to the skies for the first time in 1992 and entered into service in 1994. The shorter A330-200 followed in 1998. Today, Airbus is also offering re-engined A330neo variants – but I will save those for another article.
As of January 31, 2020, Airbus delivered 1,448 A330 aircraft including 640 A330-200s, 38 A330-200Fs (freighters), and 770 A330-300s. Further 38 “classic” A330s remain on order.
The Boeing 777 is slightly younger than the A330. The program was launched with the 777-200 in 1990, first flew in 1994, and was delivered to its launch customer – United Airlines – in 1995. The longer 777-300 first flew in 1995.
Today’s most common 777, the 777-300ER, was launched in 2000 and made its first flight in 2003. Air France, the launch customer, received its first airframe in 2004.
Other variants include the 777-200ER, 777-200LR, and 777F. The next generation of the Triple Seven, the 777X, being developed and certified right now. Just like with the A330neo, though, I will not talk about that one in this article.
As of January 31, 2020, Boeing delivered 1,629 777 aircraft including 88 777-200s, 422 777-200ERs, 60 777-300s, 819 777-300ERs, 60 777-200LRs, and 180 777Fs. Orders for 72 “classic” 777s remain unfulfilled.
Airbus A330 vs. Boeing 777: Specs
To see how the A330 and the 777 compare in terms of performance, first, let’s take a look at a number of items like size, MTOW (maximum take-off weight), range, etc. of the different A330 variants.
|Length||58.82 m (192.98 ft)||58.82 m (192.98 ft)||63.67 m (208.89 ft)|
|Height||17.39 m (57 ft)||16.9 (55.42 ft)||16.79 m (55 ft)|
|Wing Span||60.3 m (197.83 ft)||60.3 m (197.83 ft)||60.3 m (197.83 ft)|
|Fuselage Width||5.64 m (18.5 ft)||5.64 m (18.5 ft)||5.64 m (18.5 ft)|
|MTOW||242 t (533,519 lbs)||233 t (513,677 lbs)||242 t (533,519 lbs)|
|OEW||120.6 t (265,900 lbs)||109.4 t (241,200 lbs)||129.4 t (285,300 lbs)|
|Range||7,250 nmi||4,000 nmi||6,350 nmi|
Now, let’s take a look at the same for the two most common 777 passenger variants and the freighter.
|Length||63.73 m (209.08 ft)||73.86 m (242.33 ft)||63.73 m (209.08 ft)|
|Height||18.5 m (60.75 ft)||18.5 m (60.75 ft)||18.6 m (61.08 ft)|
|Wing Span||60.93 m (199.92 ft)||64.8 m (212.58 ft)||64.8 m (212.58 ft)|
|Fuselage Width||6.2 m (20.33 ft)||6.2 m (20.33 ft)||6.2 m (20.33 ft)|
|MTOW||297.5 t (656,000 lbs)||351.5 t (775,000 lbs)||347.8 t (766,800 lbs)|
|OEW||138.1 t (304,500 lbs)||167.8 t (370,000 lbs)||144.3 t (318,300 lbs)|
|Range||7,065 nmi||7,370 nmi||4,970 nmi|
As you can see, the longer A330-300 is roughly the same length – and has the same exit limit – as the shorter 777-200ER. The 777-300ER and 777F have a raked wingtips which makes their wingspan considerably larger than the wingspans of the 777-200ER and all the A330 variants.
Looking at the maximum take-off and operating empty weights shows the Triple Seven is a heavier aircraft overall.
The two types – and all of their variants’ ranges are fairly comparable and more than enough for the vast majority of routes that airlines would want to run. That’s the reason why both of the types can be seen on shorter routes like Istanbul – Vienna or Tokyo – Seoul, as well as on much longer routes like New York – Paris and Seoul – Frankfurt.
Airbus A330 vs. Boeing 777: Comfort
The overall comfort of your journey will depend on your class of travel, the airline and the type of seat it chooses, the seat pitch, and so on. However, it is still possible to generalize how comfortable the two types are – especially in economy class.
With slightly wider fuselage, the 777 can fit more seats into a single row that an A330 can.
Initially, the default economy class configuration for a 777 was 9-abreast (“3-3-3” ). Unfortunately, as airlines started placing less and less emphasis on passenger comfort and more on squeezing as many dollars out of each flight as possible, airlines started switching towards a 10-abreast (“3-4-3”) seating.
Nowadays, while there are still airlines with 9-abreast 777s, you are more likely to encounter the tighter 10-abreast configuration. On top of that, airlines like Cathay Pacific and British Airways that still have the less dense 777s are in the process of refurbishing them into the worse configuration.
Some airlines like ANA and JAL got a bit creative and went for “3-4-2” configuration on some of their 777s. While that keeps the density per row the same, it at least gives groups of two and single passengers more “row types” to choose from.
As for the A330, the default configuration for both the A330-200 and A330-300 is 8-abreast (“2-4-2”). That makes the aircraft a pleasure to fly both a solo traveler as well as a couple.
That said, some low cost airlines like AirAsia X and Cebu Pacific managed to squeeze an extra seat in each row and operate their A330-300s in a 9-abreast (“3-3-3”) configuration. Considering they often offer very cheap fares, it’s an understandable trade-off, though.
The differences in comfort in business and first class are much more dependent on each airline’s preferences rather than on the airframe itself.
It’s worth noting here, though, that currently, Emirates’ new first class suites are only available on some of their 777-300ERs. Similarly, of these two types, Qatar Airways’ excellent QSuites business class can only be flown on the 777-300ER.
Airbus A330 vs. Boeing 777: Safety
While both the A330 and the 777 – just like most major aircraft types – have been involved in a number of accidents, they are some of the safest aircraft types to fly on.
Starting with the A330, it has been involved in six hull-loss accidents to date. Among the most notable from the aircraft type’s safety point of view were Airbus flight 129 that took place on June 30, 1994, and Air France flight 447 that took place on June 1, 2009.
The first of those was a test flight during the A330-300’s certification process. The flight killed all seven people on board. Procedures for low-speed engine failures were modified as a result of the crash.
The second one crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on its way from Rio De Janeiro to Paris. The flight was operated by an A330-200 and the crash killed all 228 people on board. Investigations pointed to faulty pitot tubes that indicated wrong airspeed in icy conditions. As a result of the crash, operators with the same model of pitot tubes were advised to replace them with other manufacturer’s ones.
Boeing’s Triple Seven was involved in seven hull-loss accidents to date, one more than the A330.
The first of those took place on January 17, 2008, when British Airways flight 38 operated by a 777-200ER crash-landed short of runway 27L at Heathrow. Luckily, the crash resulted in zero fatalities. Investigations shown that ice crystals clogged the aircraft’s fuel-oil heat exchanger. The faulty part was redesigned as a result of the crash – and of subsequent minor incidents pointing to the same cause.
Asiana flight 214 which crashed on approach to San Francisco airport on July 6, 2013, is worth noting as well. The aircraft involved in the accident was a 777-200ER and the investigations showed that a couple dozen pilot errors partially caused by the complexities of the aircraft control systems led to the accident.
Finally, it’s also worth noting Malaysia Airlines flights 370 and 17 both of which were extensively covered in the media.
The former took place on March 8, 2014, when a 777-200ER with 239 people onboard disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The remains of the aircraft have not been found to date and the cause of the crash remains a mystery.
The latter was another 777-200ER that was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile above Ukraine. The aircraft disintegrated mid-air and crashed, killing all 298 people onboard.
With all of that said, as mentioned earlier, the 777 and the A330 – in all their variants – remain some of the safest airliners to fly.
As you can see, the A330 and 777 are similar aircraft in many ways. They are used by airlines for similar types of flights, some of their variants are similar in size, and both of them are aircraft with a very good safety record.
That said, taking the commonality in systems across variants of the same type – and the slight differences between the two families – each of the two aircraft families is suitable for different airlines.
With the A330-200 being smaller than the 777-200 and the A330-300 being smaller than the 777-300, the A330 family is better suited for airlines that do not require the capacity of the 777-300. On the other hand, the 777 family is better suited for airlines that can use the extra capacity that the 777-300 provides compared to the A330-300 and 777-200.