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What each Boeing airliner does: a visual guide

What is the difference between Boeing 777-300ER and 787-8? Those numbers, stacked behind the manufacturer’s name, are difficult. So, here are some simple charts to put all the models Boeing is producing into drawers where they belong.

Let’s start from the ones that are currently in production. If you were an airline executive, wanting to create a fleet for your carrier, you would be looking at two main variables: the range (meaning, how far an aircraft can fly), and the capacity (meaning, how much passengers it can carry). Of course, there are other important aspects, such as fuel consumption, turnaround time, upkeep costs and so on, but for the sake of simplicity we will focus on these two, as they are what mostly differentiates models from one another. 

Currently, Boeing offers two narrow-body (single-aisle) models, designed to connect destinations relatively close to each other, and carry relatively small amounts of people. Those are 737 NG (with variants 700, 800 and 900) and 737 MAX (variants 7, 8, 9 and 10). Both of them are developed from the base 737 model, and MAX is a modern replacement for NG, but… let’s say, for various reasons Boeing decided to stick with NG production for a while. 

Similarly, four wide-body double-aisle models are offered by the company, able to haul large amounts of people over long distances. These are 747, 777, 777 X, and 787 Dreamliner. 777 X (with variants 8 and 9) is a replacement for regular 777, but it is still in development, so you can buy either 777-200LR or 777-300ER from the older generation too. Finally, there is an option to take the vastly upgraded variant of the legendary 747 (747-8 Intercontinental) and Boeing’s latest product – 787 Dreamliner (variants 8, 9 and 10).

If we display ranges and capacities (in the regular two- or three-class configuration) of all these aircraft on a chart, we get several clear clusters: narrow-bodies on the left, with MAX being simply a slightly superior version of NG, and wide-bodies on the right. 787 appears to be aiming to fill the gap slightly, and 777 – to completely surround and replace 747. Hover your mouse or tap each data point to see more details about each model and variant.

 

An interesting tendency can be seen if we put passenger capacities of all these models into a simple range bar chart. Since all aircraft have different variants with different capacities, and narrow-body ones can have two-class or single-class configurations (with smaller and larger capacities accordingly), there is a range of capacities each model has. A chart below neatly shows how those capacities almost stack up: with the latest-generation aircraft – 737 MAX, 787 and 777X – Boeing covers any capacity between 126 and 384 passengers; older aircraft – 737 NG, 777 and 747-8 – extend the range even more, as well as fill some gaps.

 

Carrying as many passengers as an aircraft can is an important cost-saving measure for an airline, as flying half-empty jets means wasting a lot of money. Therefore, in Boeing’s lineup an airline can find the right tool for each job, that is, for every destination. But what about the range?

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