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Why is the Airbus 380 better than a Boeing 747?

The Airbus A380 is a modern design that uses the latest technologies in aviation to produce a great product for what it’s worth.

So coming 40 years after the Boeing 747, the A380 has been designed using computational fluid dynamics, built with the latest manufacturing techniques, incorporating the latest advancements in aviation in terms of systems and avionics, and featuring the most up to date interiors.

There are 4 million individual items required to put an A380 together compared with 6 million for the 747. And, there’s a fair share of the A380 assembled with modern techniques, compared to mostly manual labour, and techniques that were cutting-edge in 1965, for the 747.

The A380 has a far more advanced avionics system than the 747.

Airbus has included active gust suppression technology on the A380 to dampen the affects of turbulence. Boeing studied that for the 747–8 Intercontinental, which has a fly-by-wire wing, but dropped the idea, reasoning that the aircraft’s physical size did the work — which is true of the A380 too, but alas. The smaller 787 & 777 have that tech where the payoff is much greater than on the 747.

Still, Boeing has used fly-by-wire code to solve flutter of the wing — a novel such use of FBW flight control laws known as OAMS[1].

Historically though, the A380 simply cannot compete with the sheer impact of the 747 on world travel, world trade, nor its iconic cultural status as something of a mythical institution of aviation.

Nor can the A380 compete with the structural efficiency of the Jumbo Jet — the key reason the 747 is still in production, although ending soon, while the A380 bowed out after less than 20 years of production.

The structural issues with the A380 are around structural efficiency. And there are a few. This part of the discussion revolves around cargo.

One of the issues is the size of the lower deck cargo hold, which is only marginally bigger than that on the 747–400. With a full passenger load, the A380 cargo hold its simply volume limited in a way the 747–400’s is not. Neither match the 777–300ER though, which retains the largest lower deck cargo hold volume of any airliner in service currently; the 777–9 will be larger still.

The other issue is the two deck configuration of the A380, and the height of the main deck roof — the height of the second floor. The 747 can carry 3 metre (10 foot) tall pallets on most of its main deck — the longest main deck of any aircraft ever built. The A380 could not in its proposed freighter form. So the 747 retained cargo density of 10 pound per cubic foot, the A380 less. The A380 was limited to a maximum structural payload of 150 tonnes, compared to 143 tonnes for the 747–8F today. So in general parlance the 747 needs much less structure for essentially the same payload, so less fuel. Further, spreading that payload on two decks with 40% more floor area meant the A380 would need to carry 40% more tare — the weight of pallets, unit load devices (ULD) — than the 747–400F, to carry 33% more payload. The A380–800F would have had 2,000 km more range than the 747 though, but that would have come at a hefty tonne-mile cost.

These structural reasons permanently ended the idea of the A380 in a freighter role. The stretch of the 747 into the -8F only increased its structural efficiency metrics. It could not be beaten.

But, of course, the A350F and the forthcoming 777–8F will beat the 747 finally — at least on structural efficiency, but not yet payload.

At the end of very large aircraft production for the foreseeable future, the Airbus A380 had 251 units of a single model produced, while the Boeing 747 ends at 1573 units across over 20 different factory-built models.

The Queen of the Skies is not surpassed.


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