It's not always a zero-sum game between Boeing and Airbus.
Boeing and Airbus have gone back and forth dueling over whether the 747-8 Intercontinental or the A380 makes more sense for an airline interested in the largest passenger airplanes available. In a conversation this week in Washington DC, Transaero Airlines CEO Olga Pleshakova weighed in on the matter from the perspective of a carrier that has ordered both, and may order more of one or the other or both in the future. Transaero, Russia’s second largest airline, has four A380s and four 747-8Is on firm order; it is expected to take delivery of its first of both aircraft in 2015.
Pleshakova did not say one is better and hedged on placing a potentially big widebody order, saying a decision on a major fleet modernization order is still a couple of years away. Instead, she indicated that both may be best—depending on what type of service an airline plans to perform.
Moscow-based Transaero has two main goals, Pleshakova said: “The mass transit of tourists and [winning] the intense competition for business travelers on medium-haul routes from Russia to Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.”
In pursuit of the first goal, Transaero plans to utilize the A380, into which it will pack 650 passengers. To meet the second objective, the carrier is inclined toward the 747-8I.
Pleshakova explained: “If the A380 is the aircraft for high-volume tourism groups, the 747-8 is our answer to the … routes with less tourists but [more business-oriented] passengers who are more demanding than tourists.”
Sales for both aircraft have been disappointing. The far juicer competition is between the 787 and A350. But Pleshakova’s perspective is notable because it serves as an example that it is not always a zero-sum game between Boeing and Airbus.
Last October, I noted that Singapore Airlines, in ordering 20 A350s while shifting an order for 20 787s to subsidiary long-haul low-cost carrier Scoot, appeared to implicitly state that the A350 is better suited to traditional mainline operations, particularly medium-to-long range flying, while the 787 is a better aircraft for long-haul low-cost services.
These kinds of conclusions reached by airlines may not be satisfying to Boeing and Airbus, both of which surely would like more definitive proof that their aircraft is better than the competition’s. But in aviation, as in life, things are not always black-and-white. Both the A380 and the 747-8I—or the 787 and A350—may be “the best” aircraft, depending on how an airline wants to use it.