Is the 777X The A380 Replacement?

Daniel Fowkes
12 Apr 2024
· Aircraft 
· Analysis 
Is the Boeing 777X destined to help replace the Airbus A380 as airlines worldwide retire it in favour of twin-engine aircraft?

The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger plane, and some airlines worldwide are beginning to plan for its retirement. Can the Boeing 777X adequately replace the aircraft?

But the multi-billion dollar question is how to replace an aircraft of such sheer size that no next-generation airliner can adequately replace it.

Several analysts view the upcoming Boeing 777X as an aircraft capable of replacing the outgoing Airbus A380 at some airlines. While it is not a like-for-like replacement, it is undoubtedly an aircraft that will offer customers something similar.

The 777X Address A380 Problems

Boeing’s 777X is slated to address some critical concerns outlined with the Airbus A380. These concerns are viewed as a reason why the plane struggled in some markets.

In some cases, the significant capacity offered on the A380 meant several airlines didn’t place a firm order as it was deemed a risky investment. Additionally, these airlines may not have had an optimal route that would’ve been able to fill the double-decker aircraft.

Arguably, in the more extreme cases, a prospective airline might have been after a high-capacity aircraft but didn’t have a business model that suited the A380. This is one of the core reasons why the aircraft failed in the United States.

The A380

carries over some concerns but improves upon several key elements that allow it to be viewed as a much more modest yet ideal option.

Firstly, the 777X will address concerns about facilities. The Airbus A380’s sheer scale resulted in multimillion-dollar investments in airports that wanted to accommodate the aircraft. Despite its sheer wingspan, the 777X’s positives come from its folding wingtips. The wingtips fold to allow for maximum efficiency while in flight. When the aircraft is on the ground, the wingtips fold up to allow it to slot into existing facilities.

Does a need for an aircraft like the A380 exist? For some airlines, a market for a plane with such a capacity is still required. However, thanks to the A380’s inefficient nature, these customers must look elsewhere.

The birth of the Boeing 777X has allowed airlines a more modest, efficient, yet still high-capacity aircraft that provides an upgrade on the A350 or 787 widebody jets. Moreover, the twin-engine nature of the 777X provides customers with better maintenance costs and other related benefits.

Airbus’ A350-1000 Success

In the next-generation long-haul widebody market Airbus and Boeing have locked horns to offer the best possible solution to airlines demands.

Airbus has enjoyed already much success with its high-capacity version of the A350-900, the A350-1000. Boeing wants an alternative in the market that can be a direct competitor, and the 777X is viewed as that.

An Airbus A350-1000 departs

Despite Boeing’s pushes, Airbus has advantages with the A350-1000, including the risk element, according to many. The A350-1000 is already certified, operational, and proven over many years of flying, whereas the 777X remains uncertified.

However, despite being uncertified, the 777X’s specifications and purpose are visible. Airlines that require a new aircraft will consider it alongside the A350-1000.

Multiple airlines have placed orders for the 777X, and its uncertified nature has meant it hasn’t been the leading choice always. Analysts expect that once the aircraft formally enters service, more airlines will be able to judge its true performance metrics.

How Are Airlines Actually Replacing The A380?

While the Airbus A380 experiences somewhat of a comeback following the resurgence of demand for high-capacity airliners, most are still planning for its retirement.

However, the manner in which airlines replace their A380 has and continues to greatly differ. This can be attributed to several reasons that are underlined by an airline’s specific business model.

In some instances, airlines would openly admit that acquiring the A380 was a grave mistake. Meanwhile, others would say that with industry trends shifting, they no longer require a plane on that scale and are happy with more modest alternatives.

The persistent development of the 787 and A350 series has meant that for some leading companies, these aircraft types are all that’s required for long-haul travel. However, some still require a larger aircraft.

In 2019, reports emerged that Qatar Airways viewed the 777X as the ideal replacement for the Airbus A380. However, delays with the series’s EIS meant a heavier and longer-than-ideal reliance on the A380 was needed.

Qantas will be one of the last A380 operators. Despite this, the airline still needs to adequately plan ahead to factor in the departure. The flag carrier has already selected the Airbus A350-1000 as the successor because of its capabilities and commonality, with Project Sunrise flights seen as the most optimal choice.

Is The A350-1000 The More Ideal Replacement?

With Qantas set to use the A350-1000 as the A380 replacement, this doesn’t throw out the argument that the 777X is an ideal replacement too.

The Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 777X are direct competitors. Therefore, these two aircraft types will be pitched to any airline eyeing an A380 replacement.

Following the pitch, the airline must choose which aircraft type is best for its long-term operations.

To Conclude

Ultimately how each airline chooses to replace the A380 differs. However, for an airline that still needs a high-capacity aircraft, the 777X can be viewed as the best replacement.

As Airbus and Boeing are no longer producing quad-engined superjumbos, sacrifices have to be made. However, the capabilities of the 777X are seen as the best means for some airlines, such as Qatar Airways, to replicate what the A380 has offered them.

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