The Difference Between Boeing and Airbus

Aircraft · 6 min read · Oct 26, 2022
difference between boeing and airbus

Avid travelers as well as pilots have all faced one question before; Boeing or Airbus? Boeing and Airbus are two of the fiercest competitors in commercial aviation. The two attract several debates concerning superiority and dominance in the aviation industry.

Additionally, passengers usually struggle to differentiate whether their flight was on a Boeing or an Airbus. As air travel becomes more inveterate in today’s life, it is essential to understand the difference between the two aircraft. This article offers some basic pointers on the differences between an Airbus and a Boeing aircraft, so you can identify and compare your trips on either aircraft.

Airbus vs Boeing, are they really so different?

Now let’s dive into the list of top 11 most distinctive differences between the two aircraft producers.

State of manufacture

The first obvious difference between Airbus and Boeing is the state of manufacture. Boeing is an American aircraft manufacturer. On the other hand, Airbus is a French aircraft manufacturer. However, Boeing is a significantly older company (1916) than Airbus (1970). Boeing seems to be more status quo than Airbus, so many refer to Boeings as “ancient machines” and state that Airbus is more open to bigger changes in aircraft design.

An aircraft landing at dusk.

Naming system

The other difference between Boeing and Airbus is in the naming system. Boeing uses a 7×7 format in its naming system. However, Airbus uses an A3x0 format in its naming system. The x depends on the family of the aircraft. For instance, Boeing in the family of 3 is called Boeing 737, while Airbus in the same family is named Airbus A330. Therefore, names like 737, 747, 777 and 787 imply a Boeing, while names like the A320, A330, A350, and A380 designate an Airbus.

An Airbus Aircraft tail with a logo "A380".

Nose design

The nose design also differs in the two aircraft, allowing one to differentiate the two. The Boeing has a pointed nose, while the Airbus has a round nose. The variance is easiest to spot while looking at the plane from the front. The nose design is a simple way of differentiating the two.

Aircraft noses in comparison.

Windshield design

The other design difference is in the windshield design of the two aircraft. The Airbus has a notched window design, while the Boeing has a v-shape design on the windshields. This difference might be hard to pick up at the airport because the cockpits are usually raised, and the line of vision from the ground is obscured. 

The difference between Airbus and Boeing windshields.

Front landing gear

Another way to differentiate Boeing from Airbus is by looking at the front landing gear or the nose landing gear. The Airbus has a longer front landing gear than the Boeing. Notably, this difference is easier to notice when the two aircraft are next to each other and may be hard to notice when only looking at one aircraft. However, familiarity with an aircraft will allow one to tell the difference even when looking at just one aircraft. 

Different front landing gears between Airbus and Boeing.

Main landing gear assemblies

The main landing gear assemblies make it easier to differentiate a Boeing from an Airbus than the front landing gear. Boeing has four wheels on each main landing gear assembly, while Airbus has only two wheels on each main landing gear assembly. Additionally, the placement of the main landing gear assembly differentiates the two.

The main landing gear assembly on a Boeing is fitted to the front end of the aircraft’s belly. In contrast, the fitting lies to the back end of the aircraft belly on an Airbus. There is, therefore, a plethora of ways to tell a Boeing from an Airbus by looking at the main landing gear assemblies. 

Airbus and Boeing landing gear assemblies.


Although many do not give aircraft lights much attention, they tell a lot about the aircraft. At night, you can differentiate the two aircraft by the strobe lights- the flashing white lights on the aircraft tails. If the light flashes once, you are looking at a Boeing. If it flashes twice in rapid succession, you are looking at an Airbus.

Long exposure photo with light trails of an aircraft landing at night.

Body tail structure

On an Airbus, the fuselage remains straight below the body on the tail section, while on the Boeing, it slopes below the body. This difference is notable when looking at the aircraft from the side and not from the back.

Airbus and Boeing body tail structure.

Engine design

The engine is a major aircraft component, and the two aircraft have distinct engine designs. The difference is more pronounced in the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families. A closer look at the engines reveals a difference between a Boeing and an Airbus. The Boeing has an almost flat cowling at the bottom.

However, the Airbus has a round cowling that is almost perfectly circular. Moreover, the Boeing 737 engine has less ground clearing compared to the Airbus A320. Therefore, if you see an aircraft with less clearance on the engine and flat bottom cowlings, you are looking at a Boeing. 

Different Airbus and Boeing plane model engine designs.

Cockpit design

The cockpit design attracts much discussion in the Boeing vs Airbus debate. The Boeing uses a conventional yoke, whereas the Airbus utilizes a side stick. Each company makes a strong argument for its design. While Boeing values tradition and the better feel for the aircraft brought about by the yoke, Airbus prides itself in more comfort for the pilot and a better view of the flight instruments.

The other primary cockpit difference lies in the throttles or thrust levers. The auto-throttle is back-driven in a Boeing aircraft. In contrast, the thrust levers do not move in an Airbus. Instead, the computers set the required thrust, and the levers are set at detents.

Airbus and Boeing cockpit design.

Aircraft monitoring

Aircraft monitoring is vital in aircraft performance. The two aircraft use unique monitoring systems; the Boeing uses an ECAM, while the Airbus uses an EICAS. Although the terms sound daunting, they are uncomplicated to understand. The EICAS system stands for engine indicating and crew alerting system. Conversely, ECAM implies electronic centralized aircraft monitoring.

The ECAM stipulates the engine conditions and alerts the flight crew in case of a failure occurs during the flight. Therefore, the ECAM is a see-and-do system. As the crew is alerted of a failure, the system displays an electronic checklist for the pilots to follow to rectify the issue. Items on the checklist automatically check themselves off the list as the pilots do them.

The EICAS is different because it operates purely as an alerting system. In case of a failure, the system alerts the pilots concerning the failure. Unlike the ECAM, the EICAS does not offer a checklist on how to rectify the situation. The pilots are responsible for assessing the situation and rectifying it.  

Common misconceptions

Having explained the major differences between the two aircraft, it is noteworthy to demystify some misconceptions about the Boeing vs Airbus debate. Buying a new aircraft is like buying a new car. Although it comes with some furnishing, airlines have a great degree of control over the interior of their aircraft.

Therefore, differences in in-flight entertainment are reflective of the airline and not the aircraft manufacturer. The same applies to issues like seat configuration, aisle space, legroom, and painting. Therefore, the next time you have a dissatisfying flying experience, it may be a result of the airline and not a reason to prefer Boeing to Airbus or vice versa.

However, there are other design features that are related to the ones mentioned above but are controlled by Airbus and Boeing. They include the design of the luggage space and the legroom in the cockpit.

An aircraft taking off during the sunset.

Concluding the Boeing vs Airbus debate

The Boeing vs Airbus debate boils down to preference. Both aircraft are safe and perform exceptionally well. The design employed in each aircraft is reliable and has passed all safety and airworthiness requirements. Therefore, the differences do not affect the performance or safety of the aircraft. Instead, they are unique identifiers of each brand and what sets them apart from each other.

Neither aircraft is superior to the other. Therefore, any inclinations toward a particular aircraft rely purely on personal preferences. For instance, pilots who prefer traditional aircraft will lean towards Boeing because it uses the conventional yoke and offers a checklist in case of emergencies. However, more novel pilots prefer the Airbus because of the savvy joystick design and allowing pilots to perform independent troubleshooting in case of an emergency in flight.  

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Jet pilot @NASA

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