Airbus A380 vs. Boeing 747: The Ultimate Double-Decker Showdown

Airbus A380 vs. Boeing 747: The Ultimate Double-Decker Showdown

I have yet to meet an aviation enthusiast that doesn’t like the 747. After all, it’s an iconic airliner that changed the industry. On the other hand, the A380’s reception has been mixed – while there are enthusiasts who love it, there are also those who don’t.

In this article, I decided to look at how the two double-deckers compare to each other in a variety of aspects ranging from their history, looks, size, and capacity, all the way to their price and commercial success.

So, let’s get the A380 vs. 747 battle started!

 

History: The 747 is more than 35 years older than the A380.

Having first flown in 1969 and entered into commercial operation on January 22, 1970, with Pan American World Airways, the Boeing 747 also known as the “Queen of the Skies” has been around for quite some time.

Since then, the original 747-100 was followed by several variants including the commercially most successful 747-400 and the latest 747-8. And, the aircraft has served a wide range of operators ranging from passenger and cargo airlines all the way to various government and military organizations.

If you are interested in the history of the 747, make sure to check out 747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation, a book by “the father of the 747,” Joe Sutter.

Besides buying a printed book, you can also get it for free in an audiobook format with Audible’s free 30-day trial.

Mahan Air 747-300
Mahan Air is the last passenger airline still operating a classic Boeing 747.

While quite a few aircraft types were introduced after the A380, having first flown on April 25, 2005, it’s relatively young.

Unfortunately, though, it didn’t enjoy as much success as the 747 did. In fact, even though Airbus had plans to produce a freighter version of the “superjumbo” as well, those plans never came to fruition.

If you are interested in the history of the A380, make sure to check out Airbus A380: Superjumbo of the 21st Century by Guy Norris and Mark Wagner.

Singapore Airlines A380 - Launch Customer
Singapore Airlines was the first airline to receive the Airbus A380.

 

Look: The A380 can never match the 747’s iconic shape.

Now, let’s take at some of the two type’s characteristic features. While they are both four-engine aircraft and double-deckers, that is where the similarities end.

Among other things, depending on the version, the 747 uses nothing on its wingtips, winglets,  or raked wingtips, while the A380 (what used to be Airbus’ signature) wingtip fences. The biggest difference, though, lies in their overall look cause by the difference in their upper decks.

Boeing 747-400 Winglet
Wing of the 747-400. Notice the winglet on its end.
Airbus A380 Wing
Wing of the A380. Notice the wingtip fence.

While the A380 has a full-length upper deck which makes it look massive, the 747 has a hump just in the front part of the aircraft – a feature that gives it its iconic look and makes it the, perhaps, most widely recognized aircraft type in the world.

747's Iconic Shape
The 747’s iconic shape during sunset.

The 747’s unique design is partially a result of the fact that around the time the aircraft’s first version was designed, there was a strong belief that supersonic aircraft would take over the passenger market in the future, and the likes of the 747 would be left to carry cargo.

If you love the iconic look of the 747 just like I do, make sure to also check a post where I shared tens of photos of the Queen of the Skies in commemoration of her 50th birthday.

 

Size: 747-8s are 3.6 meters longer than the A380s.

At 72.72 meters long, Airbus A380 is the second longest aircraft in the world.

The shortest variant of Boeing 747, the 747SP is 56.3 meters long while the other than the latest 747-8 are 70.66 meters long. The latest variant, 747-8 is 76.25 meters long which makes it the longest mass-production aircraft in the world.

Boeing 747-8 - Longest Aircraft in the World
The latest version of the 747, the 747-8 is the longest airliner in the world.

While the 747-8 is longer than the A380, at 79.75 meters, the A380 has a wider wingspan. For comparison, the wingspan of the classic variants of the 747 up to the “-300” is 59.6 meters, and the “-400” and “-8” have wingspans of 64.4 and 68.4 meters respectively.

Finally, the A380 is 24.09 meters high while all variants of the 747 are between 19.3 and 19.9 meters high.

To sum it up, while the 747, or at least its 747-8 variant, is longer than the A380, the A380 is higher higher and has a wider wingspan.

Boeing 747 vs. Airbus A380 Size Comparison

Image originally created by Clem Tillier.
Modified by KN Aviation under the CC BY-SA 2.5 license

 

Weight: A380’s MTOW is 127 tons heavier than 747-8’s.

A380’s maximum take-off weight (MTOW) is 575 tons and its operating empty weight (OEW) – basically the aircraft’s weight without its payload (passengers and cargo) and usable fuel – is 277 tons.

All variants of the 747 are lighter than that. The 747SP has, at 320 tons and 153 tons respectively, the lightest MTOW and OEW of the family. On the other end of the spectrum lies the latest 747-8 which has a MTOW of 448 tons and an OEW of 220 tons.

Just for comparison, a Toyota Camry weighs around 1,600 kilograms. So, an A380 can be as heavy as almost 360 Toyota Camrys when it takes off, and a 747-8 as heavy as 280 of them.

Airbus A380
The A380 is considerably heavier than any of the 747 variants.

 

Speed: 747s can fly faster than the A380s.

The maximum cruise speed of an A380 is Mach 0.89 (89% of the speed of sound in air) while the two newest variants of the 747 (“-400” and “-8”) can cruise at a speed of Mach 0.855.

While in normal circumstances, the aircraft wouldn’t operate at speeds faster than the above, let’s also take a look at their MMo – maximum operating limit speed. For the A380 it’s Mach 0.89 and for the 747-8 it’s Mach 0.9. The older 747 variants have an even faster MMo of Mach 0.92.

Boeing 747 Speed
The 747 has a faster maximum operating limit speed than the A380.

The aircraft might fly even faster than that during test flights (or rarely in emergency situations), though.

Just as an example, the 747 is recorded to have flown at Mach 0.99 during its test flights and an Evergreen International 747 freighter reportedly made an emergency descent exceeding the speed of Mach 1.

 

Range: Both the 747-8 and A380 have a similar range.

While some sources cite the A380 as being able to fly a couple of hundred miles further than a 747-8 could, according to the official marketing documents of both Airbus and Boeing, both of the aircraft have a range of 8,000 miles.

That said, the older 747s had nowhere near the range of the A380 or the 747-8 and 747-400. For example, the 747SP had a range of 5,830 miles and the 747-200 of 6,560 miles.

That, though, is of course caused by the fact that they’re decades older.

Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 Range
Both the 747-8 and the A380 have the same range, 8000 miles.

 

Capacity: A380s can carry more passengers than the 747s.

The actual capacity varies from airline to airline depending on the number of classes, types of seats used, seat pitch, and so on. However, for the purpose of comparing the two jumbo jets, let’s take a look at the maximum number of passengers (the exit limit) the two types are rated for.

While a 747-8 could theoretically transport a maximum of 605 passengers, the A380-800 would be able to transport 868 passengers – 40% more than the Queen of the Skies.

Rarely do airlines install seats hitting the exit limit, though.

Airbus A380 Capacity
The A380 can seat considerably more people than the 747.

After all, most of them want to offer at least business class (if not premium economy or first as well) in addition to economy class. And, some of them even install things like onboard bars and showers.

 

Price: The A380 is 10% more expensive than the 747-8.

Now that you know how the A380 and 747 compare in terms of size, capacity, speed, and other factors, let’s take a look at how they compare in price.

Just in case you want to buy one…

A380 Price
The A380 is the more expensive of the two.

The average list price of the Airbus A380 based on the company’s 2018 price list is 445.6 million dollars.

On the other hand, the average 747-8 is about 40 million dollars cheaper with Boeing listing the average prices at 402.9 million dollars for the passenger version and 403.6 million dollars for the freighter.

While the above are average “list prices,” the actual price an airline has to pay for either of the aircraft can differ greatly depending on the importance of the customer to the manufacturer, the number of aircraft ordered, the engines used, and so on.

 

Customers: The 747 received 5x as many orders as the A380.

Finally, let’s take a look at how the A380 and 747 stack up against each other in terms of sales and deliveries.

Since the 747 program was started in the 1960s, 1,572 Boeing 747s were ordered and all of those except for 24 Boeing 747-8Fs were delivered to airlines and other operators around the world.

Former Largest 747 Operator Japan Airlines
For a long time, Japan Airlines was the largest operator of the 747 in the world.

With over 650 orders, the 747-400 (including the 747-400ER, 747-400F, etc.) is the most successful variant in the series. On the other end of the spectrum are the 747SP and the passenger version of 747-8, both of which recorded less than 50 orders.

Besides serving dozens of airlines over the years, various governments have relied on the 747 as well. The most notable government operator of the 747 is the United States Air Force which, among others, uses the 747 as the presidential aircraft commonly known as “Air Force One.”

As for the A380, in its fairly short life, it managed to accumulate slightly over 300 orders with outlook for future orders being fairly poor. So far, Airbus delivered a bit more than 230 of the ordered aircraft, with almost half of those finding home with a single airline – Emirates.

A380 Biggest Customer - Emirates
Emirates operates, by far, the largest fleet of Airbus A380s in the world.

 

A380 vs. 747: …and the winner is the Queen of the Skies!

Even though the latest 747-8 didn’t sell as well as the A380, the staggering difference in the total number of deliveries for all variants of the 747 versus the A380 makes it clear the 747 has been a much bigger success commercially.

Add to that the fact that the 747 can fly faster and is far better looking (although some might disagree on that one I believe most would agree), there’s no doubt who the winner is.

After all, while the A380 is certainly an impressive aircraft that beats the 747 in aspects such as capacity and weight, it does not transport the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of Japan (although that one is switching over to Boeing 777).

Air Force One - Boeing VC-25
“Air Force One” (officially only when the POTUS is onboard), the most famous aircraft in the world.

 

A380: Additional Reading

If you are interested in reading more about Airbus A380, make sure to check the articles below:

 

747: Additional Reading

If you are interested in reading more about Boeing 747, make sure to check the articles below:

Finally, to see what flying on the 747 is like, make sure to check some of the reviews of my flights on the Queen of the Skies:


Before you go... Here are 3 quick tips for travel:

For your memories: Keep a blog

Whether you do it with the ultimate goal of turning it into a career or simply to share your stories with friends, blogging can be a fun way to keep track of your travels. Read this article to learn how to get your own blog up and running.

For your convenience: Use price comparison sites

When searching for flights and accommodation, use comparison sites that will summarize prices from a variety of sources including the airline sites and online travel agencies for you. I recommend HotelsCombined for comparing hotel prices and Momondo for comparing flight prices.

For your peace of mind: Get travel insurance

Make sure you have adequate insurance coverage - whether through your credit card or through insurance policy purchased separately. This will help save your trip when you get sick or things stolen on the road, in other words, when things go wrong. In case you didn't get your travel insurance yet, I recommend getting a free quote from World Nomads.

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