Has there ever been a competitor that is a four-engine plane from Boeing that rivals the A380?


5 Answers 5


The premise of the question is flawed: the A380 competed unsuccessfully against the 747.

The 747 was produced for about 55 years. The A380 was in production for about one third as long, about 18 years. Over 1,500 747's were built, just over 250 A380's, so one sixth as many airframes sold. The 747 was still in production a year after the last 380 was delivered.

The market spoke, and while all large 4-engine jets are fading away in light of the power and reliability of the engines like those on the 777, A330, A350, and 787, the 747 was vastly more successful economically than the A380.

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    $\begingroup$ Awesome. thankyou so much for the answer. It has helped me with understanding a bit. I wanna be a pilot but i need HEAPS more background knowledge 😅😅 $\endgroup$
    – JBHIFI08
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ Another thing is that the 747 is very useful as a cargo carrier due to its design while the A380 doesn't do that type of cargo. $\endgroup$ Commented May 17, 2023 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ @SMSvonderTann I actually think that is what tipped the scales. And the fact that A380 was born into a dying market. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ Notably a freighter variant of the A380 was floated around but had no buyers and nothing was ever built, while the 747 layout was designed from the start to be useful as a freighter and was doing so as early as the mid '70s. Even though the reasons for changed - in the '60s it was assumed that the passenger 747 would be made obsolete by SSTs like Concorde, when it was actually made obsolete by smaller, more flexible and efficient twinjets. $\endgroup$
    – CameronSS
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 19:02

No. Boeing wisely understood that the 380 was a "bridge too far", just too big for most airports. The program has been a disaster for Airbus.

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    $\begingroup$ I think they really expected most airports to adapt. I rode on one going to France on business once. Sitting over the wing, the top white painted plank was like a big trapezoid shaped skating rink. The DeHavilland Canada Dash 7 was another project based on a concept that didn't work out, use of short stubs of crossing runways to operate from at super busy airports, using the Microwave Landing System that was in dev. It was 50 seats, 4 PT6s, optimized for STOL, but only about 107 were sold. The massively successful Dash 8 was basically a do-over, abandoning STOL for efficiency. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ I would say airports in Europe went a lot farther in making changes to accommodate the 380, for obvious team reasons. The biggest one IIRC is simply the weight of the thing, requiring new taxiway and ramp foundations. Perhaps if the order book had grown to several hundred units, other airports may have been more willing to make the improvements required. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know about the rest of Europe, but here in the UK building new runways is a political nightmare. Upgrading terminals, taxiways and such is much less of an issue. So at somewhere like Heathrow the goal is to get as much as possible out of the runways they have. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 4:08
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    $\begingroup$ Could it be argued that the A380 has saturated an (unexpectedly) small market? If so, that is a "dominant market position", but how much did/will Airbus lose over the lifetime of the A380? My point being that the market for it was evidently smaller than expected, but how much of a "disaster" was that to Airbus in reality? (contrast to the 747, which must surely have been a lot more successful than ever expected) $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 8:04
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    $\begingroup$ @AJM because what are you going to demolish to make room for that runway? is the value of the runway really greater than the value of everything you'll demolish, including sentimental value etc? The Berlin (DE not UK) city planners here have committed to demolishing about 5 of the city's quite famous nightclubs to build... a short stretch of highway. Presumably the UK is much more averse to that sort of thing. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 12:18

Boeing did the same market studies that Airbus did and came up with quite different conclusions.

Airbus concluded there was a massive market for very large aircraft operated on trunk routes to eventually replace existing 747s. They designed the A380.

Boeing concluded that the future market was for a larger number of smaller aircraft with shorter turnaround times, and designed the 787 (originally they tried for the Sonic Cruiser, adding increased speed into the mix as well, which idea they couldn't get to work).

So no, Boeing didn't try to compete with the A380 because it wasn't in their vision for the future of civil aviation.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, all studies came to similar conclusions, but the French side of the consortium never accepted a No. From decades of trying to sell smaller airplanes with the competition subsidized by 747 profits, they had grown an irrational desire to turn the tables and do to Boeing what Boeing had done to Airbus. $\endgroup$ Commented May 18, 2023 at 6:35
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf: can you elaborate an answer from your comment? It's going to be interesting $\endgroup$
    – sophit
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ I think Airbus felt they needed to prove they could build something as good as the "queen of the skies".....that didn't work so well. $\endgroup$
    – Anilv
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Anilv technology wise the A380 was brilliant, it just was the wrong plane at the wrong time for the economy as it was introduced not too long before the air travel market worldwide flattened out and then went into a nosedive. While it was in production sales outperformed those of the 747, which also was discontinued for that same reason. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 6:54

Actually Boeing and Airbus cooperated for a couple of years at the beginning of the project:

In January 1993, Boeing and several companies in the Airbus consortium started a joint feasibility study of a Very Large Commercial Transport (VLCT), aiming to form a partnership to share the limited market. In June 1994, Airbus announced its plan to develop its own very large airliner, designated as A3XX. Airbus considered several designs, including an unusual side-by-side combination of two fuselages from its A340, the largest Airbus jet at the time. The A3XX was pitted against the VLCT study and Boeing's own New Large Aircraft successor to the 747. In July 1995, the joint study with Boeing was abandoned, as Boeing's interest had declined due to analysis that such a product was unlikely to cover the projected $15 billion development cost.


Boeing actually knew about the A380 project for some time. Boeing, however, chose to develop the 787 Dreamliner and 737-MAX instead. Boeing figured the market was headed away from the hub-and-spoke model that the 747 had dominated for decades. While there are still airlines that heavily rely on that model, they are getting rarer. (2013 article)

The airline's stance reflects the broader aviation picture. The purchase of an A380 or 787 is far less a decision between manufacturers than a question of competing visions of the economics and future of air travel. Airlines carrying high volumes of passengers on major routes favour the A380, and Emirates - by far the largest customer - has refitted its Dubai hub to service its fleet, which is set to reach 140 planes. Five depart Heathrow for Dubai daily. At crowded airports where slots are at a premium, putting more customers on each plane taking off can make real sense.

But if the A380 is, as an Airbus spokesman put it, a "congestion buster", the 787 is better known as a "hub buster" – one that rewrites traditional models of funnelling connecting passengers onto the jumbos that make long-haul flying viable. With fewer seats, its fuel efficiency and range are enabling the likes of a direct Heathrow-Austin connection – BA's next new route for 2014 – even with less passenger demand than established routes.

One reason for that is that in the days of the 747's launch, very few lesser cities had commercial airports and air travel was expensive. So if you wanted to travel to Europe, you'd fly to JFK in New York and connect in a wide body to another hub in Europe. Nowadays, you can get direct flights from many places and skip the hubs entirely. The airlines fly smaller jets to accommodate the demand. This is what contributed heavily to the doom of the A380 line

  • $\begingroup$ Is it really true that few smaller cities had commercial airports at the time of the 747's launch? Or rather that there was neither the market nor the aircraft (nor facilities) to viably operate long-haul flights from those cities? At least where I live (SE U.S.,) I know of lots of small cities near where I live that had commercial air service in the 50s/60s that don't today. A lot of those were served by piston props and lost air service during the jet age (probably in large part also due to the development of the Interstate Highway System enabling quick land access to larger airports.) $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab I guess it depends where the airports were. Not many were "international" back in the day outside of major airports $\endgroup$
    – Machavity
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab international service requires a customs office, which I think would be a much larger burden for small airports. $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2023 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkRansom That's mostly true (ignoring the Preclearance program,) but I was just responding to the part of the answer that says, "One reason for that is that in the days of the 747's launch, very few lesser cities had commercial airports and air travel was expensive." Commercial air service doesn't have to be international lots of small airports had commercial domestic feeder flights to larger airports back then before the Interstates dramatically cut down the land travel time to the larger airports from smaller cities. But, of course, those rarely had international service. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 21:24

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