Defining the Wide-Body Aircraft

Aircraft · 6 min read · Dec 20, 2022
wide-body aircraft

There are many different types of aircraft crossing the skies above us, and one of those types is the wide-body aircraft.

Obviously, the name of the aircraft tells us that this type of aircraft has a wide body. Yet, many questions may still arise. What is considered a wide body and not a narrow body? What is the purpose of a wide-body aircraft? Among other questions.

Perhaps you are wondering whether you have flown on a widebody aircraft or not. So, if you want to discover more about widebody aircraft, keep reading to learn the details.

What is considered a wide-body aircraft?

Wide-body aircraft, sometimes called jumbo jets, are those airplanes that have a fuselage with a width that usually falls in the range of 16 to 20 feet (4.8 to 6.1 meters) in diameter, although some jumbo jets exceed this range as we will see later.

The wide body of these aircraft usually offers two aisles of seats, which is why they are also called two-aisle airplanes. This makes it possible for airlines to carry more passengers.

In other words, the wide body of these airplanes offers the airline industry a higher capacity for carrying passengers than aircraft with a single aisle, thus making wide-body aircraft a great alternative for those airlines trying to cope with passenger demand without having to increase the number of flights.

Wide body aircraft landing on a sunny day.

Moreover, what sets wide-body aircraft apart from their narrow-body counterparts is not just their width; wider fuselages also result in a wider wingspan. This allows for more efficient lift and increased stability during flight. Additionally, because they have more interior space, wide-body aircraft often have a more spacious and comfortable cabin than narrow-body aircraft.

For example, United Airlines and other major airlines take advantage of the added space to offer higher levels of comfort in their business class configurations. Some major airlines even offer full beds to business-class passengers during long-haul flights.

Perhaps the only drawbacks to flying on a wide-body aircraft are two. One is that they generally require more fuel than narrow body aircraft, which can translate into higher operating costs and a larger carbon footprint. However, recent technological advancement in this area has achieved impressive fuel efficiency for the size of these airplanes.

Additionally, because they are bigger and heavier, they take longer to accelerate on the runway to take off and may require longer landing distances which limits them to operating in major airports only.

A bit of wide-body aircraft history

The first wide-body aircraft was the Boeing 747, which was introduced in 1969. After came the famous McDonnell Douglas DC-10 in 1971 and the Lockheed L-1011. Since then, wide-body aircraft have become increasingly popular, with new models being introduced by various manufacturers over the years. Today, some of the most popular wide-body aircraft include the Airbus A330, the Boeing 777, and the McDonnell Douglas MD-11.

An aircraft Boeing 777 banking.

What is the biggest wide-body aircraft?

For any aviation enthusiast, wide-body aircraft with two aisles of seats is the subject of much fascination. These massive planes are designed to carry large numbers of passengers and cargo, and they are often used for long-haul flights.

The biggest wide-body aircraft is the Airbus A380, which has a width of 23.4 feet, a wingspan of 261 feet, and a length of 238 feet. It can carry up to 850 passengers and has a range of 8,200 nautical miles. Just to put it in perspective, the Airbus A350, has a width of 19 feet, a wingspan of 212 feet, and a length of 219 feet. It can carry 350 passengers while still having a range of 8,300 nautical miles. So, for the same flight length, the Airbus A380 clearly is a better option to cope with passenger demand.

Also, the A380 has a maximum take-off weight of 575 tones and an empty weight of 277 tones. Stretched, longer versions of the A380 (without widening it) were planned but have not been developed as of yet.

Unfortunately for aviation enthusiasts, Airbus has stopped production of the A380.

A Boeing 747 aircraft taking off into a clear sky.

Is the A320 a wide-body aircraft?

Many people see the Airbus model A320 and believe it is a wide-body aircraft. However, the A320 does not belong to the jumbo jet family. It is a single-aisle narrow-body aircraft that can accommodate 150 to 186 passengers depending on the configuration of its 13 feet (3.95 meters) fuselage. Remember that to be considered a wide-body aircraft, the width must fall in the range of 16 to 20 feet, usually having two aisles.

What about the Boeing 747 jumbo jet?

The closest follower to the Airbus A380 is the Boeing 747-8, which has a width of 20 feet, a wingspan of 224 feet, and a length of 250 feet. It can carry up to 410 passengers and has a range of 7,730 nautical miles. While the 747-8 is a huge jumbo jet, it is clear that the A380 has the winning lead in terms of size and capacity.

As mentioned above, the 747 was the first widebody aircraft to be developed. It is one of the most iconic planes ever created and it has the responsibility for the “jumbo jet” name to be coined.

Other wide-body aircraft

Apart from the amazing Airbus A380, and the Boeing 747s, there are other wide-body aircraft that have flown or are still flying above us. Some of the most popular wide-body two-aisles airplanes include the following.

Boeing 777 / 777X

The Boeing 777 is the third-widest widebody aircraft, with a width of 20 feet (6.19 meters), and has been one of Boeing’s most successful models to date (according to Boeing data). It was designed as a smaller alternative to the 747 in 1995 and first flew with United Airlines. The DC-10 was replaced by the 777 in order to fill the demand for a large commercial plane that used less fuel.

The original 777-200 was the first in a line of Boeing aircraft that has since become known for their wide fuselages and comfortable cabins. The latest member of the family, the new 777X, will be the longest passenger widebody developed by Boeing yet.

Although the 777X has a wider interior cabin width, the exterior fuselage width is identical to that of the 777. An additional 4 inches (10 centimeters) was gained through thinner cabin walls and improved insulation.

An Air France Boeing 777.

Ilyushin 86/96

The Russian-designed and built Ilyushin 86 widebody quad jets are the fourth widest widebody, with a width of 19.9 feet (6.08 meters) with two aisles.

The Ilyushin 86 was created by the USSR from 1968-1972. It became available for public use in 1976 and mostly flew with the Russian airline Aeroflot. Out of the 106 aircraft made, only 3 were sold to other countries outside of Russia. As of now, it is still up and running but strictly with the Russian Air Force.

The Ilyushin 96 is a modification of the Ilyushin 86, with an augmented range. It achieved its maiden flight in 1988 and is still being manufactured in Russia. There are 15 units still active, in Russia, and with Cuban airline Cubana.

Ilyushin 86 aircraft landing, Image source: © Leonid Faerberg,

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar

The L-1011 Tristar is a three-engine wide-body aircraft that was developed by Lockheed Corporation. It was the third wide-body aircraft to enter service, after the Boeing 747 and DC-10, in 1972.

Out of the 250 TriStar aircraft that were created, most have been retired by now. Though, some remained in service until the early 2000s. The only known functioning model is currently being used by US aerospace company Northrop Grumman for satellite launches and goes by the name ‘Stargazer.’

The exterior widths of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, MD-11, and TriStar are all within 1-2 centimeters of each other. However, the TriStar has managed to create a slightly wider interior cabin than its competitors.

Image source: (CC) Aero Icarus, An aircraft from Delta Airlines landing on a clear day.

What airlines fly wide-body aircraft?

There are a number of airlines that have flown and still fly airplanes with wide bodies. For example, when the A380 first entered service in 2007, the first commercial flight of the biggest wide-body aircraft was operated by Singapore Airlines. And the airline still has this plane type as part of its fleet.

Other airlines that fly the A380 include:

  • Asiana Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways
  • British Airways
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Korean Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Thai Airways International
  • Air France

Moreover, British Airways is also known for flying 747s for a long time. Boeing states that there are several airlines flying this model for both passenger and cargo operations, including:

  • AirBridge Cargo
  • Air China
  • Atlas Air
  • Cargolux
  • Cathay Pacific Airways
  • Korean Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Nippon Cargo Airlines
  • Qatar Airways
  • Silk Way Airlines
  • UPS
A Boeing 747 of Lufthansa parked at an airport.

Closing remarks on the wide-body aircraft

While not intended for shorter flights, wide-body airplanes have represented a huge success for traveling long distances.

Wide-body aircraft offer many advantages over their narrow-body counterparts—including increased passenger and cargo capacity, and increased stability during flight—but they come with some disadvantages as well. Higher operating costs due to increased fuel consumption and longer takeoff times are two potential drawbacks of flying on a wide-body plane.

Aviation professionals need to weigh these pros and cons carefully when deciding which type of aircraft is right for their needs.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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