Wide-body aircraft

The Airbus A380 is the world's largest and widest passenger aircraft
Size comparison between a Boeing 737-300 (narrow-body) and a Boeing 777 (widebody aircraft)

A wide-body aircraft is a large airliner with two passenger aisles, also known as a twin-aisle aircraft.[1] The typical fuselage diameter is 5 to 6 m (16 to 20 ft).[2] In the typical wide-body economy cabin, passengers are seated seven to ten abreast,[3] allowing a total capacity of 200 to 600 passengers. The largest wide-body aircraft are over 6 m (20 ft) wide,[4] and can accommodate up to eleven passengers abreast in high-density configurations. Wide-body aircraft are also used for the transport of commercial freight and cargo[5] and other special uses, described further below. The spelling widebody aircraft is also commonly found within the aircraft industry.[6][7]

By comparison, a traditional narrow-body airliner has a diameter of 3 to 4 m (10 to 13 ft), with a single aisle,[1][8] and seats between two and six people abreast.[9]

Wide-body aircraft were originally designed for a combination of efficiency and passenger comfort. However, airlines quickly gave in to economic factors, and reduced the extra passenger space in order to maximize revenue and profits.[10] Depending on how the airline configures the aircraft, the size and seat pitch of the airline seats will vary significantly.[11] For example, aircraft scheduled for shorter flights are often configured at a higher seat density than long-haul aircraft.

Due to current economic pressures on the airline industry, high seating densities in the economy cabin are likely to continue.[12]



Boeing 747, the first widebody passenger aircraft, operated by Pan American World Airways

The Bristol Brabazon was a wide-body transatlantic design that first flew in 1949 but never reached production. Following the success of the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 in the late 1950s, airlines began seeking larger aircraft to meet the rising global demand for air travel. Engineers were faced with many challenges as airlines demanded more passenger seats per aircraft, longer ranges and lower operating costs.

Early jet aircraft such as the 707 and DC-8 seated passengers along either side of a single aisle, with no more than six seats per row. Larger aircraft would have to be longer, higher (such as a double deck), or wider in order to accommodate the greater number of passenger seats. Engineers also realized that lengthening the fuselage would have resulted in aircraft that would be too long to be handled by airports, while having two decks created difficulties in meeting emergency evacuation regulations, which were extremely challenging provided the technology available at the time. These parameters left a wider fuselage as the best option: by adding a second aisle, the wider aircraft could accommodate as many as 10 seats across.[13]

The wide-body age began in 1970 with the entry into service of the first wide-body airliner, the four-engined, double-deck Boeing 747.[14] New trijet widebody aircraft soon followed, including the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. The first widebody twinjet, the Airbus A300, entered service in 1974.[15]

After the success of the early wide-body aircraft, several successors came to market over the next two decades, including the Airbus A330-A340 Series and the Boeing 777. In the jumbo category, the capacity of the Boeing 747 was not surpassed until October 2007, when the Airbus A380 entered commercial service with the nickname Superjumbo.[16]

Design considerations

Cross-section comparison of Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-400
Airbus A300 cross-section, showing cargo, passenger, and overhead areas

Although widebody aircraft have a larger frontal area (and thus greater form drag) than a narrow-body aircraft of similar capacity, they have several advantages over their narrow-body counterparts:

British and Russian designers had proposed widebody aircraft similar in configuration to the Vickers VC-10 and Douglas DC-9, but with a widebody fuselage. The British Three-Eleven project never left the drawing board, while the Russian Il-86 widebody proposal eventually gave way to a more conventional wing-mounted engine design, most likely due to the inefficiencies of mounting such a large engine on the aft fuselage.


Mechanic working on a Rolls Royce Trent 900 engine during testing. The Trent is a typical type of high bypass turbofan used in widebody airliners.

As jet engine power and reliability have increased over the last decades, most of the widebody aircraft built today have only two engines. A twinjet design is more fuel-efficient than a comparable trijet or four-engined aircraft. The increased reliability of modern jet engines also allows aircraft to meet the ETOPS certification standard, which calculates reasonable safety margins for flights across oceans. The trijet design has been eliminated due to higher maintenance and fuel costs, and only the heaviest widebody aircraft today are built with four engines (the Airbus A340, Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8).[18][19]

The Boeing 777 twinjet features the largest and most powerful[20] jet engine in the world, the General Electric GE90, which is 128 inches (3.25 m) in diameter.[21] This is almost as wide as the entire fuselage of a Boeing 737 at 148 inches (3.76 m).

The massive maximum takeoff weight of the Airbus A380 (560 tonnes (1,200,000 lb)) would not have been possible without the engine technology developed for the Boeing 777 (such as contra-rotating spools).[22] The Trent 900 engine pictured, used on the Airbus A380, has a fan blade diameter of 116 inches (2.95 m), only slightly smaller than the GE90 engines on the Boeing 777. An interesting design constraint of the Trent 900 engines is that they are designed to fit into a Boeing 747-400F freighter for relatively easy transport by air cargo.[23]


The interiors of aircraft, known as the aircraft cabin, have been undergoing evolution since the first passenger aircraft. Bar and lounge areas which were once installed on the Boeing 747 have mostly disappeared, but a few have returned in first or business class on the Airbus A340-600,[24] Boeing 777-300ER,[25] and on the Airbus A380.[26]

Emirates has installed showers for First Class passengers on the A380; twenty-five minutes are allotted for use of the room, and the shower operates for a maximum of five minutes.[27][28]

A comparison of interior cabin widths and economy class seating layout is below under widebody specifications. Further information can be found under external links.

Wake turbulence and separation

This picture from a NASA study on wingtip vortices illustrates wake turbulence

Aircraft are categorized by ICAO according to the wake turbulence they produce. Because wake turbulence is generally related to the weight of an aircraft, these categories are based on one of four weight categories:[29] light, medium, heavy, and super.[30]

Due to their weight, all current widebody aircraft are categorized as heavy, or in the case of the A380, super.

The wake-turbulence category also is used to guide the separation of aircraft.[31] Super and heavy-category aircraft require greater separation behind them than those in other categories. In some countries, such as the United States, it is a requirement to suffix a heavy (or super) aircraft's call sign with the word "heavy" (or super) when communicating with air traffic control in certain areas.

Special uses

A U.S. Space Shuttle mounted on a modified Boeing 747

Widebody aircraft are used in science, research, and the military. Two specially modified Boeing 747 aircraft, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, are used to transport the U.S. Space Shuttle. Some widebody aircraft are used as flying command posts by the military, such as the Boeing E-4, while the Boeing E-767 is used for Airborne Early Warning and Control. New military weapons are tested aboard widebodies, as in the laser weapons testing on the Boeing YAL-1. Other widebody aircraft are used as flying research stations, such as the joint German-U.S. Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. Airbus A340,[32] Airbus A380,[33] and Boeing 747[34] four-engine widebody aircraft are used to test new generations of aircraft engines in-flight. A few aircraft have also been converted for aerial firefighting, such as the DC-10-based[35] Tanker 910 and the 747-based Evergreen Supertanker.[36]

Some widebody aircraft are used as VIP transport. Germany uses the Airbus A310, while Russia uses the Ilyushin Il-96 to transport their highest leaders. The specially modified Boeing 747-200 used by the President of the United States is known as Air Force One, or the Boeing VC-25. More information can be found under: Air transports of heads of state and government.

Future development

The Boeing 787, the first large composite aircraft, expected in service in 2010[37]

Airbus and Boeing are racing to market with two new widebody designs, currently in development.[38] Both manufacturers have been under significant pressure to see which obtains the most orders.[39]

Currently, the Boeing 787 has received more orders than Airbus, and will be first to enter into airline service. The 787 is also the first large commercial aircraft to utilize a monolithic composite fuselage.[40]

The initial Airbus A350 design was only a minor upgrade to that of the A330/A340 series, but Airbus was forced to make significant design changes in response to feedback from the airlines.[41][42] In addition to being a few inches wider than the Boeing, Airbus claims that the A350 final specifications will be better than that of the 787.[43][44][45]

The article on competition between Airbus and Boeing further discusses the rivalry, while order counts between the two aircraft can be compared under Airbus A350 orders versus Boeing 787 orders.

Widebody specifications

Model EIS[46] -









Inside Diameter,[48]

main passenger deck,

upper passenger deck

Outside Diameter,[48]

main passenger deck

Number of seats across in economy,[49]

main deck (seat width)[50]

Airbus A300 1974–2007 2 132.0 tons[51]

171.7 tons[52]

208 inches (5.28 m)[52] 222 inches (5.64 m)[52][53] 8 across (17.0" wide) in 2-4-2 on TG[54][55]

8 across (17.0" wide) in 2-4-2 on LH[56]

Airbus A310 1982–2007 2 164.0 tons[57] 208 inches (5.28 m)[57] 222 inches (5.64 m)[57] 8 across (17.4" wide) in 2-4-2 on AI[58][59]
Airbus A330 1994 2 233.0 tons[60] 208 inches (5.28 m) 222 inches (5.64 m)[60] 8 across (17.5" wide) in 2-4-2 on EK[61]

8 across (17.5" wide) in 2-4-2 on NW[62]

Airbus A340 1993 4 380.0 tons[63] 208 inches (5.28 m)[64] 222 inches (5.64 m)[64] 8 across (17.3" wide) in 2-4-2 on EY [65]
Airbus A350 2013 2 298.0 tons[66] 220 inches (5.59 m) [67] 234 inches (5.94 m) [67][68] 8 across (19.0" wide) in 2-4-2 proposed[69][70]

9 across (17.7" wide) in 3-3-3 proposed[69][71]

Airbus A380 2007 4 560.0 tons[72] 259 inches (6.58 m) [72]

233 inches (5.92 m) [72]

281 inches (7.14 m) [72] 10 across (18.6" wide) in 3-4-3 on SQ[73]

10 across (18.1" wide) in 3-4-3 on QF[74]

10 across (18.0" wide) in 3-4-3 on EK[75]

Boeing 747 1970 4 412.8 tons[76] 240 inches (6.10 m)[77][78]

136 inches (3.45 m)[79]

256 inches (6.50 m) [79] 10 across (17.7" wide) in 3-4-3 on TG[80]

10 across (17.2" wide) in 3-4-3 on NW[81][82]

Boeing 767 1982 2 204.1 tons[83] 186 inches (4.72 m)[84] 198 inches (5.03 m)[85] 7 across (18.0" wide) in 2-3-2 on UA[86][87]

7 across (17.0" wide) in 2-3-2 on US[88][89]

Boeing 777 1995 2 351.5 tons[90] 231 inches (5.87 m) [91] 244 inches (6.20 m) [91][92] 9 across (18.0" wide) in 2-5-2 on UA [93][94]

9 across (17.9" wide) in 3-3-3 on CO[95][96]

10 across (17.0" wide) in 3-4-3 on AF[97][98][99]

Boeing 787 2010[37] 2 245.0 tons[100] 215 inches (5.46 m)[101] 227 inches (5.77 m)[102][103]

8 across (18.5" wide) in 2-4-2 proposed[102]
9 across (17.2" wide) in 3-3-3 proposed[102]

Ilyushin Il-86 1980–1994 4 208.0 tons[104][105] 224 inches (5.70 m) [104] 239 inches (6.08 m) [106] 9 across (18.0" wide) in 3-3-3[107]
Ilyushin Il-96 1992 4 240.0 tons[108] 224 inches (5.70 m) [109] 239 inches (6.08 m) [110] 9 across (18.0" wide) in 3-3-3 on SU[111]
L1011 Tristar 1972–1984 3 231.3 tons[112] 225 inches (5.72 m)[113][114] 237 inches (6.02 m) 9 across (17.0" wide) in 2-5-2 on SV[115]
MD DC-10 1971–1988 3 259.5 tons[116] 224 inches (5.69 m)[116] 237 inches (6.02 m)[116] 9 across (17.2" wide) in 2-5-2 on NW[117][118]
MD MD-11 1990–2000 3 286.0 tons[119] 224 inches (5.69 m)[119] 237 inches (6.02 m)[119] 9 across (17.5" wide) in 3-3-3 on KL [120][121]


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ginger Gorham, Ginger Todd, Susan Rice (2003). A Guide to Becoming a Travel Professional. Cengage Learning. p. 40. ISBN 1401851770, 9781401851774. 
  2. Paul J. C. Friedlander (1972-03-19). "the traveler's world; Test of a New Wide-Bodied Airbus". New York Times. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E15F93C59107A93CBA81788D85F468785F9&scp=133&sq=wide-body&st=p. 
  3. Doganis, Rigas (2002). Flying Off Course: The Economics of International Airlines. Routledge. p. 170. ISBN 041521324X, 9780415213240. 
  4. Note: See table in this article for wide-bodied passenger-aircraft fuselage widths.
  5. "Wide body cargo screening still a challenge". Impact Publications. 2008-11-18. http://www.impactpub.com.au/aircargo/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2659&Itemid=60. Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
  6. http://www.boeing.com/commercial/startup/pdf/business/Financing_Options.pdf
  7. http://www.airbus.com/en/presscentre/pressreleases/press-release/?tx_ttnews[cat]=152&tx_ttnews[pS]=1209592800&tx_ttnews[pL]=2678399&tx_ttnews[arc]=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=1266&tx_ttnews[backPid]=1683&cHash=672c48e9a1
  8. "narrowbody aircraft". http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/narrowbody-aircraft.html. Retrieved 2009-03-18. 
  9. Royal Aero Club (Great Britain), Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom (1967). Flight International. IPC Transport Press Ltd.. p. 552. http://books.google.com/books?id=U3s7AAAAMAAJ&pgis=1. 
  10. Eric Pace (1981-05-24). "How Airline Cabins are Being Reshaped". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B02E3D61438F937A15756C0A967948260&sec=travel&spon=&pagewanted=all. 
  11. "Airline Seat Pitch". UK-Air.net. http://www.uk-air.net/seatpitch.htm. Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
  12. "Flying through a storm". Economist.com. 2008-10-22. http://www.economist.com/research/articlesBySubject/displaystory.cfm?subjectid=348873&story_id=12454133. Retrieved 2009-03-16. 
  13. Irving, Clive (1994). Wide Body: The Making of the Boeing 747. Coronet. ISBN 0 340 59983 9. 
  14. Rumerman, Judy. "The Boeing 747", U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. Retrieved: 30 April 2006.
  15. "The Airbus A300". CBC News. 2001-11-12. http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2001/11/12/airbus011112.html. Retrieved 2009-08-24. 
  16. "Business | Airbus unveils 'superjumbo' jet". BBC News. 2005-01-18. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4183201.stm. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  17. Bor, Robert (2003). Passenger Behaviour. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. p. 170. ISBN 0754609367, 9780754609360. 
  18. Note: As of 2008-11-30 published Airbus data, only a handful of Airbus A340-500 aircraft orders are still pending. See Airbus A340#Deliveries and [1]
  19. Note: This fact can be viewed in the Specifications section; click arrows under MTOW to sort by weight.
  20. Eisenstein, Paul. "Biggest Jet Engine." Popular Mechanics, July 2004. Retrieved: December 2, 2008.
  21. See
  22. Guy Norris, Mark Wagner (2005). Airbus A380: superjumbo of the 21st century. Zenith Imprint. pp. 105–115. ISBN 076032218X, 9780760322185. http://books.google.com/books?id=KcaYjPhRnWUC&pg=PA105. 
  23. Guy Norris, Mark Wagner (2005). Airbus A380: superjumbo of the 21st century. Zenith Imprint. p. 111. ISBN 076032218X, 9780760322185. http://books.google.com/books?id=KcaYjPhRnWUC&pg=PA111. 
  24. [2]
  25. International Business Class
  26. "A380 First Class Social Area & onboard Lounge | Emirates A380 First Class | The Emirates A380 | Our Fleet | Flying with". Emirates. 2009-06-02. http://www.emirates.com/uk/english/flying/our_fleet/emirates_a380/first_class/social_area_onboard_lounge.aspx. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  27. "A380 Shower Spa | Emirates A380 First Class | The Emirates A380 | Our Fleet | Flying with". Emirates. 2009-06-02. http://www.emirates.com/uk/english/flying/our_fleet/emirates_a380/first_class/shower_spa.aspx. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  28. "Double luxury - how the airlines are configuring their A380s". Flightglobal.com. http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2008/09/01/315369/double-luxury-how-the-airlines-are-configuring-their.html. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  29. "EUROCONTROL - Revising wake turbulence categories to gain capacity (RECAT)". Eurocontrol.int. 2008-11-21. http://www.eurocontrol.int/eec/public/standard_page/EEC_News_2008_3_RECAT.html. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  30. Posted by B. N. Sullivan (2008-08-04). "Professional Pilot News: Airbus A380 requires new 'super' wake separation category". Propilotnews.com. http://propilotnews.com/2008/08/airbus-a380-requires-new-super-wake.html. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  31. http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/ATpubs/AIM/Chap7/aim0703.html
  32. "PICTURES: Airbus prepares A340-600 testbed for GTF ground runs". Flightglobal.com. 2008-09-29. http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2008/09/26/316574/pictures-airbus-prepares-a340-600-testbed-for-gtf-ground-runs.html. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  33. http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2010/04/29/341141/r-r-prepares-to-ground-test-trent-xwb-ahead-of-a380-trials-next.html
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  36. Evergreen International Aviation - Supertanker Services Inc.
  37. 37.0 37.1 http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2008/12/09/319833/airbuss-boeing-787-dossier-could-have-wider-implications-for-both-airframers.html Airbus’s Boeing 787 dossier could have wider implications for both airframers, FlightGlobal.com. Retrieved 2008-12-09.
  38. http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/04/10/business/airbus.php
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  42. "Redesigning the A350: Airbus’ tough choice." Hamilton, S., Leeham Company.
  43. Airbus's A350 vision takes shape Flight International December 2006
  44. 787 fact sheet Boeing
  45. http://www.eads.com/xml/content/OF00000000400004/7/19/41508197.pdf Taking the lead: A350XWB presentation] EADS
  46. Note: Entry into Service through Final Production Year
  47. Note: Maximum MTOW of heaviest passenger version, in metric tonnes. Data have been rounded up to nearest tenth of a metric ton. Margin of error should be assumed. Use for comparison only.
  48. 48.0 48.1 Note: Original airframe manufacturer source data specified in feet, inches, or meters, without error margin information. Thus, due to rounding and conversion errors, a margin of error of 2 inches should be taken into account. Compare with automotive specifications, currently published to within 2 millimeters.[3] Maximum interior cabin width is measured at chest or eye level when seated, as is usually a few inches wider than the cabin floor.
  49. Note: Airlines custom-configure the interior layout as per their objectives. Isle width and armrest width also affect layout but are not shown here.
  50. Note: Seat-width specifications are not always represented accurately; multiple sources are encouraged, as well as the comparison of multiple airlines. Unexpected widths may be in error and should not be included here.
  51. Note: The lightest widebody aircraft ever built was the Airbus A300B1 with a maximum take-off weight of 291,000 lb (132,000 kg).
  52. 52.0 52.1 52.2 A300-600 specifications, Airbus
  53. Note: There appears to be a unit conversion error on the Airbus webpage for the A300 O.D. specifications. 222 inches (5.64 m) is presumed to be correct.
  54. "SeatGuru Seat Map Thai Airbus A300-600 Vers. 1 (AB6)". Seatguru.com. http://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Thai_Airways/Thai_Airways_Airbus_A300-600_36R1.php. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  55. TG New Fleet / Seat, Thai Airways
  56. [4], seatguru.com
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  58. Airbus 310-300 page, Air India
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  62. A330-200 seating and specifications page, NWA
  63. [6]
  64. 64.0 64.1 A340-200 specifications, Airbus
  65. [7], Etihad Airways
  66. A3550-1000 Specifications, Airbus. Retrieved 2008-12-08.
  67. 67.0 67.1 A350 specifications, Airbus
  68. Note: Possible error on original Airbus webpage, conversion of metric to imperial off by 1 inch on Airbus webpage.
  69. 69.0 69.1 10-abreast A350 XWB 'would offer unprecedented operating cost advantage', Flightglobal.com
  70. Note: Possible unit-conversion error in article, 48 cm used as source.
  71. Note: Published article indicated most airlines will choose the 9-across configuration
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  103. http://www.boeing.com/commercial/787family/787-8prod.html Note: some Boeing B787 source material indicates 227 inches (5.77 m) outer diameter, while other Boeing sources indicate 226 inches (5.74 m)
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  105. Note: Other references for the Ilyushin Il-86 MTOW ranged between 206 and 215 metric tonnes.
  106. Gunston B, Aircraft of the Soviet Union, Osprey, London, 1984
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