The mid-size, twin-aisle battle

The mid-size twin-aisle battle

While a plethora of new entrants are nipping at the heels of Airbus and Boeing in the single-aisle market, the battle in the twin-aisle segment is strictly between the two behemoths.

The two OEMs differ on the size of the market by a wide margin. Airbus, in its 2011 20-year Global Market Outlook, the most recent available, forecasts a need for 6,525 twin-aisle airplanes: 4,518 “small” twin aisles and 1,907 “large” twin-aisles. Boeing, which does not publicly distinguish this segment, forecast a need for 7,950 twin-aisles. This is in the 200-400 seat segment (Airbus uses 210-400 for its forecast).

Given their methodology differences in the total market forecast, both nonetheless come to the same market share—24%–of the mid-size, twin-aisle segment.

The line-up is:

There remains a great deal of uncertainty and ambiguity over the future of the product development. Here is a run-down for the programs.


Boeing’s twin-aisle strategy suffered a major setback with the program issues surrounding the 787. This airplane was, of course, supposed to enter service in May 2008 to replace the 767 and the A330. Had Boeing done so, Airbus would have been put at a disadvantage for a decade. The plan had been to do the 787, followed by a replacement for the 737 and then a replacement for the 777. All this is out the window.

The 787 delays allowed Airbus the time to vastly improve the A330 and gain sales and market share from disappointed 787 customers. As Airbus is fond of pointing out, it has sold more A330s since the launch of the 787 than it did before. The A330-200 is now a 7,250nm airplane—exceeding, it claims, the range of the early, over-weight, under-performing 787-8s. The A330-300 is now a 6,000nm airplane, a whopping improvement over the first generation. Further improvements are expected to be announced at the Farnborough Air Show.

But Boeing still is the market leader in one category, the 777-300ER.


There is no question that this airplane figuratively and literally stands alone in its market. Airbus competed with the A340-500/600 and it was an uneven contest. These Airbus sub-types never lived up to expectations for fuel consumption and the highly efficient -300ER drove them out of the market. Even Airbus’ John Leahy acknowledges this. But that doesn’t stop Leahy from having the -300ER in a direct bulls eye for the A350-1000 (see below). In the meantime, the -300ER has its trade space all to itself.

777-200 Series

The 777-200ER is essentially a dead airplane, though it still is listed in Boeing’s offering. The A350-900—the direct competitor—put the final nails into the -200ER’s coffin. The 200 Series is now reduced to the niche airplanes, the -200LR and the -200F.


Boeing has undertaken a major campaign to cast doubts about the A350-1000, recently taking up the story line that there hasn’t been a sale of this airplane since 2008 when George W. Bush was president. Airbus has a response to this, which we related under the A350 section. But the point is made. Having done so, Boeing is not resting on the laurels of the 777-300ER, and this is where the 777X studies come in. Boeing is considering two models: the -8X and the -9X. The -8X is nearly the size of the -300ER: about 350 passengers vs 365. The 9X is an entirely new category. At 407 passengers in the current concept, this is slightly over the threshold of the Very Large Airplane category as defined by Boeing and Airbus: more than 400 passengers. It’s as large as the 747-400. The concept calls for new engines, a new, composite wing and wing box, new interior sidewalls that will allow a slightly wider cabin and slightly more room in the aisles or seats.

But it’s not at all clear Boeing will proceed with the 777X even though that’s all they’ve been talking about publicly. We learned some weeks ago that it’s entirely possible Boeing may do little more than undertake engine and aerodynamic improvements on the -300ER. One fleet manager told us he believes that if Boeing proceeds with the 787-10, as is believed to be a certainty, then he doesn’t think Boeing will have the engineering and related resources available to undertake a major makeover of the 777 into the X program.

Aspire Aviation, a consultancy in Hong Kong, has its own recent analysis of the twin-aisle market. Contained within it is a discussion of the prospective 777X and the 777-300ER+ as noted above.

787 Series

At long last, the 787-8 has been delivered—but only 13 were delivered through June 30 since the first one last September, 10 months ago. It’s taking an average of 10 months per airplane to do the rework required, according to an analysis by UBS Securities.

The 13 are all heavy airplanes with early engine packages that didn’t meet original specifications. But launch customer All Nippon Airways said the airplane is still 21% better on fuel consumption on a per-seat basis than the Boeing 767-300ERs the 787 is replacing. This is good news for Boeing.

Meantime, engineers are working on the final design for the 787-9 and working up the preliminary specifications for the 787-10.

Although Boeing talks about the 787-10 and the 777X as though these are fait accompli, neither is a “go.” Jim Albaugh, former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said the 787-10 would be the airplane to get a go-ahead first.  Boeing’s reception by customers toward the -10 has been superb, said Nicole Piasecki, Boeing vice president of Business Development and Strategic Integration, during the pre-Farnborough Air Show media briefing.

It’s widely assumed that this sub-type will be launched this year (though not at the Air Show). As noted above, one fleet manager believes Boeing won’t have the resources to undertake a 787-10 and a 777X, relegating the latter to Performance Improvement Programs on the 777-300ER.

What happens with the A350-1000 will nonetheless be a driver.


This program is now largely reduced to being a freighter.


Airbus had its own tumult in the twin-aisle arena. The company first dismissed the 787 as another of Boeing’s fantasy airplanes and failed to recognize the threat and promise of the composite aircraft.

Then Airbus responded in an embarrassing display of an A350 that was nothing more than a re-winged, re-engined A300. This “Version 1” was roundly dismissed by the market.

The embarrassing display continued through Versions 2-5 before settling on the A350 XWB, and even now the -800 and -1000 seem to raise more questions than they answer.

A330 Series

AirInsight has a comprehensive look at the A330 program. We have little to add here, except this:

Airbus claims the lower-cost (in terms of capital cost and lease rates) and greater passenger and cargo capacity keeps the A330s competitive with the 787-8 and 787-9. Since the 787-10 specifications haven’t been identified yet, Airbus hasn’t made a comparison with this sub-type.

A further improvement of the A330-300 is likely to be announced at the Air Show. Engine PIPs are a certainty. Whether sharklets will be added remains to be seen. Since a Bloomberg article suggests another 400nm range will be forthcoming through an MTOW increase, this suggests sharklets may not yet be part of the package.

Engine PIPs will improve fuel burn by 1%-2%. Sharklets would further reduce fuel burn by 4%-5%, for a total reduction of 6%-7% if combined with the engine PIPs. This seems like a no-brainer. So why not?

The answer is that with a 6%-7% reduction in fuel burn—and the fact one could buy the airplane for 25% less than an A350-800—this pretty much would destroy the business case for the -800.

A350 Series

The A350-800, as Boeing is fond of pointing out, hasn’t had a sale since 2008. This is a shrink of the -900, and as we know, shrinks generally don’t perform well (the A319 is a notable exception and so is the A330-200). The -800 has more orders outstanding than the A350-1000, but Airbus has also been encouraging customers to switch from the -800 to the more profitable (for Airbus) -900.

Market talk, encouraged by Boeing but hardly a Boeing exclusive, raises lots of doubts whether the -800 has a future. At the Airbus Innovation Days in May, John Leahy and the A350 program chief didn’t even mention the -800 in their presentations.

It does make you wonder.

One source familiar with the situation tells us Airbus doesn’t have to make a decision on the -800’s future for another year.

The A350-900 will, by all accounts, be a very good airplane. But nobody we talk to (except for Airbus itself) believes EIS will be in mid-2014 as advertised. Another delay of at least five months and perhaps somewhat more is considered highly likely.

As for the A350-1000, Boeing has had a very effective public relations campaign to sow doubts about this model. Launch customer Tim Clark of Emirates Airlines has been very vocal in saying the airplane doesn’t do what he wants—which is Dubai to Los Angeles non-stop, with more passengers and cargo. Launch customer Akbar Al-Baker of Qatar Airways, who has Tim Clark-envy, has chimed in, though his motivations are somewhat more of a mystery. Qatar doesn’t have any routes that the -1000 cannot do, in contrast to Emirates. There is a large industry suspicion that Al Baker likes to hear himself talk.

But as much as Boeing likes to cast doubts on the -1000, its own assessment shows the threat to the 777-300ER.

As you can see, Boeing places the A350-1000 well to the left of the 777-300ER.

Airbus offers this assessment:

Airbus’ Leahy, when asked at Innovation Days about the lack of sales for the -800 and -1000 since 2008, responds that he has no delivery positions until after 2017/18 and airlines don’t want to pay escalation costs this far out.

There is certainly some truth to this, as confirmed by a purchaser of Airbus and Boeing planes (but not, as yet, of the A350). But we don’t think this is the whole story.

When it comes to the -1000 vs the 777X, one observer close to both companies says each is waiting to see what the other will do before deciding what to do about their own airplane.

The next 12-18 months will be very interesting to see how the chess game plays out.

General comments

Readers noted in a previous post that Boeing uses different seat assumptions for the A350 than does Airbus. This seat-count game has been going on for years. Boeing likes to reduce the seat count for Airbus, and vice versa. Airbus now shows the A350 with 369 seats vs the 350 it used to use. When asked, Airbus said this reflects a two-class configuration rather than three class.

Way back during the seat-count game (which continues) over the 747-8I vs the A380, we thought then (as we do now) that the entire process was silly. Airlines choose their configurations, so figuring costs as Airbus and Boeing do on a per-seat basis for public consumption is somewhat absurd.

During the 748-A380 debate, we decided to do some computations based on exit-limited capacity to determine per-seat costs, weight-per-seat, etc. (A380 won.) We think this should be done on all airplanes.

But the public relations game really doesn’t matter. The airlines perform their own analysis and theirs is the only one that counts.

  • Lufthansa concluded the A380 was more economical than the 748I.
  • Lufthansa concluded that the 737-8 MAX would be about 2% better than the A320neo (this before the Advanced Technology Winglets came into being).
  • Lufthansa concluded the Bombardier CSeries beats the A319 and A319neo.
  • Qantas/JetStar says the 737-800 and A320 are equal.
  • Assumptions used by Airbus and Boeing vary widely and, in our view, Boeing’s reliance on suspect DOT Form 41 data and outdated European-originated IATA data, means both companies’ data used in the continuing public relations campaigns are suspect.

It is because of the above, and for other reasons, we often show our skepticism of the data advanced by Airbus and Boeing.

29 Comments on “The mid-size, twin-aisle battle

  1. Engine PIPs will improve fuel burn by 1%-2%. Sharklets would further reduce fuel burn by 4%-5%, for a total reduction of 6%-7% if combined with the engine PIPs. This seems like a no-brainer. So why not? The answer is that with a 6%-7% reduction in fuel burn—and the fact one could buy the airplane for 25% less than an A350-800—this pretty much would destroy the business case for the -800.

    Was it HP who said that if you don’t eat your own lunch, your competitor will? Nevertheless, I suspect both the A330 and A350-800 will struggle against the 787 in full flow. Boeing have really got that package nailed down – if not the execution. Yet.

  2. I guess something im hoping you or someone else can shed some light on.
    If a 330 with PIP’s and winglets beats the 350-800, what would a 330 with all that and new LEAP type engines do, or with a GTF type engine. You would think that Airbus would have done all those calculations before going ahead with the 350 programme. Apart from the supply chain complexity, i would see no downside to this. They could then optimise the 350 more towards the bigger variants. The 330 will be in production for a long time yet as a freighter or as military variants. why not do this re-engine ?

  3. Scott
    Excellent comparison report for reference of all the Boeing/Airbus a/p’s pos-
    sibly in play during the next decade or more, based on available data today!

  4. After reading this mail and looking at both companies historical sales, I have the impression that each of their airplanes are optimised in a specific range and passanger target, so that, when trying to compared them each companies “moves the other to their ground”, so it is understandable why finally we have equal market share: each airline is having a different optimun.

    Tricks seem to be everywhere:

    – Reducing from 369 to 350 is a gap of more than 5%
    – Header of 787 about operating cost says “787 has lower operating cost” but in the graph “cash operational cost is used” (which means, amortization is removed), so it is not considered the total full operational cost directly created by the manufacturer.

    Quick question, have you got the reference about Lufthansa analysis?
    Lufthansa has selected NEOs (

    • To be honest, I have not seen any airline that says the 737-8MAX will be better then the A320 NEO. AA and Norwegian ordered both. SW and Lion have large exiting 737 fleets. SW was remarkably positive about the NEO afterwards and sited price and commonality for their choice. Qantas has a large 737 NG fleet but switched, when the MAX was available.

      The weights, fan/ BPR, winglets, GTF I can understand, the MAX being better anyway I do not understand. And I do not believe its much more complicated.

      I think Boeing inventing the 737 NG was much better in hindsight and relating all new to that is a brlliant marketing move. I did not jump on that train and most airlines don’t.

  5. IMHO your interpretation of the seat mile cost / trip cost diagram is not quite correct.
    -1000 and -300ER are on the same level in rel. seat mile cost. Lower trip cost
    then is just a function of capacity. i.e. Boeing brashly insinuated that there will be no advantage using the A350-1000 instead of the 777-300ER
    ( another imho: the diagram is rather worthless as it does not present othogonal metrics
    but one can add nice swipes with a crayon. A more expressive presentation would show seat mile cost over capacity )

  6. I doubt either of the 787-10 or 777-8x are fully up to the A350-900 and -1000, in the heart of the twin aisle segment. Both seem compromised, the -10 in payload-range, the -8x being probably being relatively heavy and based on a 25 year old platform at EIS.

    If you really need 400 seats the 777-9x seems the only deal. Anyway we’ll see how CX, BA, AF/KLM, UA and SQ think about it.

    Longer term a bigger wing for the 787 seems the solution, as was the original idea, before the body-wing issues.

  7. Keesje,

    why do you persistently harp on abut QF switching to the neo when you well know these aircraft were bought for Jetstar and their Asian expansion plans? Typical one-sided deception from you. One could just as easily conclude these were ordered by the QF group as a trade off for the 380 deferrals, which I suspect will end up as A380 cancellations.

  8. I am waiting impatiently for an announcement on the fate of the A350-800XWB and A350-1000XWB.

    By the way, the A350-1000XWB was launched in 2006 and the targeted entry into service is 2017 or eleven long years after launch.

    • Vero Venia, I think the “fate” of the A350-1000 might very well be some blue chip 777 users ordering them, within a week. And the doubts about the – 1000 Boeing is spreading everywhere joining doubts about the to be leapfrogged A320NEO, disastrous A380 and dying A330.

      What many fail to identify is that all 777-300ER ordered sofar will be delivered before the first A350-1000 enters service. Same as A330s being delivered because of 787 unavailability.

      QFA787380 Jetstar being a QF subsidiary more 737s would be total logical. The NEOS being ordered as a trade off for the 380 deferrals, which you suspect will end up as A380 cancellations is possible. MAX would have been much better to compensate the far more damaging 787 delays, that got QF real pissed (and cancelling a number).

  9. I got a good chuckle out of the A330 v 787-9 comparison chart from Airbus showing the 787-9 with only a $5k advantage per month. I am sure airline fleet managers around the world did as well.

  10. very good article, What ever the outcome between Boeing & Airbus, it shows that there is room for a third manufacturer of mid-size, twin-aisle aircraft

    • I’m curious what exactly, anywhere in this article, leads you to this conclusion. The lineup graph shows pretty clearly that both A and B have the widebody market well covered within the near-future timeline. You could also ask Lockheed or McDonnell-Douglas just how much fun it is to be the 3rd company trying to compete in the widebody market. Plus, there’s now a significantly greater technological hurdle. Any third company trying to break into the widebody market at this point would have to do so with an all-composite airplane to be at all competitive, and this is proving to be a significant challenge even for the two giants. The only reason A and B could afford to deal with the challenges of designing a composite aircraft is that they have massive engineering resources and the cash flow of multiple successful existing designs; no newcomer would have any of this. The only way I could see any new company getting into the widebody market is somebody like Bombardier or Comac first establishing themselves firmly in the narrowbody market, and then building on that experience and revenue to work their way up in size. This means the earliest we’d see any third company’s widebody offering would be around 2030.

  11. Maybe Lufthansa should stop being an airline (they don’t generate a profit anyways) and focus on assessing aircraft. It seems they can do that well.
    With an installed base of 140 A319/20/21 they will probably remain faithful to the Airbus single aisle.

    Did anyone notice that the entire region of 220-300 seats in medium ranges (where you don’t have super first class) is basically empty? If you want to replace a B767-300 today … you would need to buy a B767-300.

    • The Lufthansa group seems to do well in MRO under their Technik division including their partnership with Rolls-Royce, and their LSG division still cooks. But, if they stop flying, they must change their name. Maybe ErdeHansa?

  12. In the coming years you wll get a new version of the B787-3, May be the B787-5
    And a low MTOW and lighter version of The A358 …
    A 2 Billion wing’s project … and a lot of weight rip-out !
    Very efficient engines are needed … in the 55-65 000 lbs range, just waiting for a new GTF from P&W , it’s my hope ??
    But A & B will make it … may be later than sooner !
    Patience required !

  13. It seems many here bite when Boeing says the MAX has better economics despite higher fuel consumption, but chuckle when someone states the A330 has better economy despite higher fuel consumption then the 787-8.. makes me chuckle 🙂

    • This blog would be dull without hearing of someone chuckling, without the disputatious remarks, the patronizing, the tit for tat. That and seeing an A380 makes me chuckle 🙂

    • It seems you bite when Airbus says the A330 can be improved to compete with the 787, but chuckle when anyone says that the 777 can be improved to compete effectively with the A350-1000.

      The 767/A330/787 graph currently shows about a 15% advantage for the 787 over the A330 across the board. Engine PIPs and sharklets might reduce that to 8-9% (although 4-5% for replacing current winglets with sharklets seems a bit high to me). That’s still a huge gap, even before you take into account ANA’s empirical performance data that shows the current, overweight 787s are actually 20% better than the 767, not 16-18% as in the graph above. So in the end, we’re talking at least a 20% gap between the current A330 and an at-spec 787; PIPs and sharklets are not going to close that gap sufficiently.

      • Whatever the real numbers maybe but the 20% (or even 21%) savings ( what metric ) floating around seems to compare various unknown fruit.
        i.e. I think it is a worthless marketing distraction.

        Every graph published by Boeing ( at least as far back as a A310/B767 runoff in the early eighties ) seem to have a “playing field leveling” ~8% artificial offset to Boeings advantage.

        It will be very interesting to watch the relevant _new_sales number in the next couple of years.

  14. “767-300ER
    This program is now largely reduced to being a freighter.”

    Yet, in the lead for Boeing best selling widebody of 2012.

    Half way through the year, Boeing deliveries look on track for 737 at 425, 747, 767, and 787 at 25 each, and 777 at 90, for 590 total.

  15. A 240t A330 seems a done deal. Some months ago Sharklets were mentioned. Airbus is introducing weightsavings because the A340s are discontinued. Interiors could be updated, as well as further avionics improvements. I wonder how far away a new engine RFP really is.

  16. The answer is that with a 6%-7% reduction in fuel burn—and the fact one could buy the airplane for 25% less than an A350-800—this pretty much would destroy the business case for the -800.

    I couldn’t agree with you. It seems to me as a clever insurance in case of 350 delays. AB also could ask for a premium for this model.

    • I agree, and made a similar argument a few months ago. The A330 cannot and will not be competitive with any at-spec 787 variant with any of the changes Airbus is looking at, so in my mind, there’s no way Airbus will look to the A330 as their long-term offering in that segment. Right now, it seems that neither the A330 nor the A358 is competitive with the 788/9, but the A358 is the only one of the two that can be improved enough to get there, so that’s where Airbus will put their development time.

      The A358 is Airbus’ future competitor is the 270-seat segment; the A330 is holding the fort until the newer plane is flying.

  17. Balkan’s thoughts run rather parallel to mine. Or to put it another way, if they can make a better case for the A330 PIP, rework, re-engine scenario, why bother with the A350-800? Perhaps that is why they reversed the priority of the -800 & -1000?

    Vis-a-vis the 777-x and the 787-10. I believe McNerneys vision of Boeing, bearing in mind what has happened the last 8 years, will not allow for such grand, simultaneous risks…er…projects to be run. First the MAX, then say the 787-10, maybe followed by a 777X of some sort and then in15 years or so they can seriously look at the NSA or new NB, assuming single aisles will not be looked at.

    Many will scoff at this but lets talk again in 15 years. That is alot of work and the last time Boeing successfully managed such a large volume of programs one after the other, many of us were still in diapers, or just growing out of them.

    The interesting tactic here is that Airbus will finally have a large twin that will be competitive with the 777. Will it kill the 777? Not bloody likely, and that is without taking into account the potential to update the existing 777 or developing a new 777 variant.

    But it will pick up a few sales that have up until now eluded Airbus. Not the great victory Airbus fans are boasting about and certainly not the doom and gloom some people forecast for Boeing. It is, however, another step forward for Airbus and Boeing will be hard pressed to stop that step.
    I believe that the engines are the magic formula for higher fuel efficiency. The fuselage materials may reduce weight to a certain degree but both OEMs have now relaized that wholesale use of composites in the structures extracts a price due to bonding networks and lightning strike dissipation requirements.
    Boeing seems to be making no secret that GE is not a foregone conclusion to be the engine OEM of choisce for the 777-x. That being the case, Boeing might lose out on their exclusivity for said variants. To me, one of the biggest advantages of the 777 was this engine exclusivity.

    It is all going to be quite interesting how this all plays out and I do believe that both companies have one or two more surprises in store for us. But it is all going to take a few years for this all to play out. By the time the results are in, I will probably be retired (asssuming I make it that far!!). The best part, by that time, there will be a whole new set of battles being fought and most of this will be forgotten.

    Heh heh.

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