Airbus A380 vs Boeing 747 – Comparison, technology, advancing – Who’d be your choice ?

Boeing is powering up the sales campaign on its newest plane, the 747-8, after overcoming technical obstacles it could ill-afford in its battle for survival against the Airbus A380 in the very large aircraft market.

Both aircraft are struggling to get wins on the board, with the A380 believed to require 100-150 more sales before it breaks even on its $US20 billion development cost.

The cost of developing the 747-8 was only a fraction of that – around $US4 billion – but, like the A380, it has faced technical issues and delays that have piled on further costs.

And, at the consumer end, it has suffered from the perception that it's old technology, while the 1990s invention of the A380 is all-new.

In fact, if you thought the 787 Dreamliner was the latest airliner from Boeing, you'd be forgiven. The company pitched the Dreamliner directly to airline customers in a radical marketing strategy as a piece of brand-new techno-wizardry, that created strong passenger expectations of the plane.

An unforeseen consequence is that the 747 is now seen as passé, even though the "dash eight" did not make its first flight until 2011 – nearly two years after the 787.

If only Boeing had unleashed its latest 747 salesman on the consumer market to spruik its latest creation.

Bruce Dickinson has only just taken over as vice-president for the 747 program and like many other Boeing project leaders he's an engineer with a personal stake in the technology in the 747-8: he was project chief engineer from 2011.

The past two months have seen both Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand get rid of their last 747s, while United Airlines took its 747s off the Los Angeles and San Francisco routes in April, with non-stop Melbourne-Los Angeles 787 services beginning in October.

Qantas has pared back its 747 fleet from a peak of 36 between 2003 and 2007, to just nine in 2015 flying on a handful of routes: Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles and Sydney to Santiago (Chile), Tokyo, Hong Kong and Johannesburg.

A stopover in had to be scheduled in Brisbane, which is 441 kilometres closer to Dallas than Sydney and right on the 747-400ER's range limit.

Even so, as Qantas engineers "broke in" the route, there were unscheduled diversions to Noumea, New Caledonia, to refuel.

Eventually, on rare days when headwinds were too strong, 747 flights from Dallas were diverted to Auckland, New Zealand, where a relief crew was positioned to operate the rest of the journey to Brisbane and Sydney.

The A380 has almost 1000 nautical miles (1800 kilometres) more range than the 747-400ER, allowing Qantas to schedule non-stop travel in both directions – 15 hours 35 minutes from Sydney to Dallas with the prevailing tail wind and 16 hours 50 minutes coming home.

"She's a beauty and she looks so graceful gliding through the air!" Long Island, New York, resident George Maccarone enthuses in a recent Boeing blog. "Having seen A380s approaching JFK [John F. Kennedy airport] for the last few years, I can tell you that the difference between the two aircraft is startling.

"Seeing a 747-8I in the air is like watching Cinderella, while watching the A380 is like watching her ugly stepsister."

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