Wide-body aircraft

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"Jumbo jet" redirects here. For other uses, see Jumbo jet (disambiguation).
The Airbus A380 is the world's largest and widest passenger aircraft.
Size comparison between a British Airways Airbus A320 (narrow-body) and an Air Canada Boeing 777-300ER (widebody aircraft)

A wide-body aircraft is an airliner having a fuselage wide enough to accommodate two passenger aisles, also known as twin-aisle aircraft, with seven or more seats abreast.[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 850[4] passengers. The largest wide-body aircraft are over 6 m (20 ft) wide,[5] and can accommodate up to eleven passengers abreast in high-density configurations.

By comparison, a typical narrow-body airliner has a diameter of 3 to 4 m (10 to 13 ft), with a single aisle,[1][6] and seats between two and six people abreast.[7]

Wide-body aircraft were originally designed for a combination of efficiency, passenger comfort, and to increase the amount of cargo space. However, airlines quickly gave in to economic factors, and reduced the extra passenger space in order to maximize revenue and profits.[8]

Wide-body aircraft are also used for the transport of commercial freight and cargo[9] and other special uses, described further below.

The biggest wide-body aircraft are known as jumbo jets due to their very large size; examples include the Boeing 747 ("jumbo jet"), Airbus A380 ("superjumbo jet"), and upcoming Boeing 777-9X ("mini jumbo jet").[10][11] The phrase, "jumbo jet", derives from Jumbo, a famous circus elephant in the 19th century.[12][13]


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

Following the success of the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 in the late 1950s and early 1960s, 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 a greater number of passenger seats. Engineers realized having two decks created difficulties in meeting emergency evacuation regulations with the technology available at that time. During the 1960s, it was also believed that supersonic airliners would succeed larger, slower planes. Thus, it was believed that most subsonic aircraft would become obsolete for passenger travel and would be eventually converted to freighters. As a result, airline manufacturers opted for a wider fuselage rather than a taller one (the 747, and eventually the DC-10 and L-1011). By adding a second aisle, the wider aircraft could accommodate as many as 10 seats across, but could also be easily converted to a freighter and carry two eight-by-eight freight pallets abreast.[14]

The engineers also opted for creating "stretched" versions of the DC-8 (61, 62 and 63 models), as well as longer versions of Boeing's 707 (-320B and 320C models) and 727 (-200 model); and Douglas' DC-9 (-30, -40, and -50 models), all of which were capable of accommodating more seats than their shorter predecessor versions. The full length double-deck solution was not realized until the twenty-first century, in the form of the Airbus A380.

The widebody age began in 1970 with the entry into service of the first widebody airliner, the four-engined, partial double-deck Boeing 747.[15] 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. This period came to be known as the "widebody wars".[16]

After the success of the early widebody aircraft, several successors came to market over the next two decades, including the Boeing 767 and 777, the Airbus A330 and A340, and the McDonnell Douglas MD-11. 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.[17]

In the mid-2000s, rising oil costs in a post-9/11 climate caused airlines to look towards newer, more fuel efficient aircraft. Two such examples are the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 XWB. The proposed Comac C929 and C939 may also share this new widebody market.

Cross-section comparison of Airbus A380(Full length double deck) and Boeing 747-400(Only the front section is double deck)

Design considerations[edit]


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:

  • Larger volume of space for passengers, giving a more open feeling to the space
  • Lower ratio of surface area to volume, and thus lower drag on a per-passenger/cargo basis. The only exception to this would be with very long narrow-body aircraft, such as the Boeing 757
  • Twin aisles that accelerate loading, unloading, and evacuation compared to a single aisle (widebody airliners typically have between 3.5 and 5 seats per aisle, compared to 5-6 on most narrow-body aircraft)[18]
  • Reduced overall aircraft length for a given passenger or cargo capacity, improving ground maneuverability and reducing the risk of tail strikes.
  • Greater under-floor freight capacity
  • Better structural efficiency for larger aircraft than would be possible with a narrow-body design

British and Russian designers had proposed widebody aircraft similar in configuration to the Vickers VC10 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 large engines 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 trijet or four-engined aircraft of similar size.[citation needed] 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 effectively dismissed due to higher maintenance and fuel costs compared to a twinjet[citation needed]. The vast majority of aircraft designs today have two engines, with only the heaviest widebody aircraft built with four engines (the Airbus A340, Airbus A380 and Boeing 747).[19][20]

The Boeing 777 twinjet features the largest and most powerful[21] jet engine in the world, the General Electric GE90, which is 134 inches (3.40 m) in diameter.[22] 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).[23] 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.[24]


The interiors of aircraft, known as the aircraft cabin, have been undergoing evolution since the first passenger aircraft. Today, between one and four classes of travel are available on wide-body aircraft.

Bar and lounge areas which were once installed on wide-body aircraft have mostly disappeared, but a few have returned in first class or business class on the Airbus A340-600,[25] Boeing 777-300ER,[26] and on the Airbus A380.[27] Emirates Airline 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.[28][29]

Depending on how the airline configures the aircraft, the size and seat pitch of the airline seats will vary significantly.[30] 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 class cabin are likely to continue.[31]

In some of the largest single-deck widebody aircraft, such as the Boeing 777, the extra space above the cabin is utilized for crew rest areas and galley storage.

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

Wake turbulence and separation[edit]

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:[32] light, medium, heavy, and super.[33]

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

The wake-turbulence category also is used to guide the separation of aircraft.[34] 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 the aircraft's call sign with the word "heavy" (or super) when communicating with air traffic control in certain areas.

Special uses[edit]

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, were 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 (SOFIA). Airbus A340,[35] Airbus A380,[36] and Boeing 747[37] 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[38] Tanker 910 and the 747-based Evergreen Supertanker.[39]

Some widebody aircraft are used as VIP transport. Canada uses the Airbus A310, while Russia uses the Ilyushin Il-96 to transport their highest leaders. Germany replaced their Airbus A310 by an Airbus A340 in spring 2011. Specially-modified Boeing 747-200s (Boeing VC-25s) are used to transport the President of the United States. When one of these aircraft is in use by the President, its call sign is Air Force One. More information can be found under: Air transports of heads of state and government.

Future development[edit]

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the first large composite aircraft, entered in service in October 2011[40]

An early development for the Airbus A380, dubbed P500, incorporated two A340-sized fuselages arranged side-by-side in a "double bubble" configuration, joined together by an outside housing. This would have been the widest airliner ever built, however the design was scrapped in favor of a lighter, double-deck design. In the 1990s, Boeing and Sukhoi also proposed very wide aircraft that could be configured for 12 abreast seating with three passenger aisles.[41][42]

Airbus and Boeing are racing to market with two new widebody designs, currently in development.[43] Both manufacturers have been under significant pressure to see which obtains the most orders.[44]

In 2005, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner had received more orders than Airbus, and was scheduled to be the first to enter into airline service. The 787 is also the first large commercial aircraft to utilize a monolithic composite fuselage.[45]

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.[46][47] 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.[48][49][50]

Many of the newer widebody airliners developed since the late 1990s have smaller fuselage cross sections than earlier designs. While aircraft such as the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 had fuselages wide enough to be configured for 10 abreast seating, having a wider fuselage will substantially increase drag, while also leaving more unused space overhead. Newer aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, are designed to accommodate 8-9 seats abreast in an effort to improve efficiency. Some aircraft with very wide fuselages, such as the Boeing 747, can be configured to have crew rest areas and galley storage above the cabin in order to reduce the amount of unused space.

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.

List of wide-body aircraft[edit]

Type Country Date Role Status Description
Airbus A300 Europe 1972 Airliner Out of Production
Airbus A310 Europe 1982 Airliner Out of Production
Airbus A330 Europe 1992 Airliner Production
Airbus A340 Europe 1991 Airliner Out of Production[51]
Airbus A350 Europe 2013 Airliner Prototype (Estimated entry into service: 2014)[52]
Airbus A380 Europe 2005 Airliner Production
Boeing 747 USA 1969 Airliner Production
Boeing 767 USA 1981 Airliner Production
Boeing 777 USA 1994 Airliner Production
Boeing 787 USA 2009 Airliner Production
Frigate Ecojet Russia 2018 Airliner Planning and Development
Ilyushin Il-86 Soviet Union 1976 Airliner Out of Production
Ilyushin Il-96 Soviet Union 1988 Airliner Production
Lockheed L-1011 TriStar USA 1970 Airliner Out of Production
McDonnell Douglas DC-10 USA 1970 Airliner Out of Production
McDonnell Douglas MD-11 USA 1990 Airliner Out of Production

Specifications of wide-body aircraft[edit]

Model EIS[note 1] -Final
No. of
[note 2]
Inside Diameter,[53]
main passenger deck
upper passenger deck
Outside Diameter,[53]
main passenger deck
Number of seats across in economy,[note 3]
main deck (seat width)
Airbus A300 1974–2007 2 132.0 tonnes
[note 4]
171.7 tonnes[54]
5.28 metres (208 in)[54] 5.64 metres (222 in)[54][note 5] 8 across (17.0" wide) in 2-4-2 on TG[55][56]
8 across (17.0" wide) in 2-4-2 on LH[57]
Airbus A310 1982–2007 2 164.0 tonnes[58] 5.28 metres (208 in)[58] 5.64 metres (222 in)[58] 8 across (17.4" wide) in 2-4-2 on AI[59][60]
Airbus A330 1994- 2 233.0 tonnes[61] 5.28 metres (208 in) 5.64 metres (222 in)[61] 8 across (17.5" wide) in 2-4-2 on EK[62]
9 across (16.5" wide) in 3-3-3 on D7[63]
Airbus A340 1993–2012 4 380.0 tonnes[64] 5.28 metres (208 in)[65] 5.64 metres (222 in)[65] 8 across (17.3" wide) in 2-4-2 on EY[66]
9 across (16.5" wide) in 3-3-3 on D7[67]
Airbus A350 XWB 2014 (est.) 2 298.0 tonnes[68] 5.61 metres (221 in)[69] 5.97 metres (235 in)[69][note 6] 8 across (19.0" wide) in 2-4-2 proposed[70]
9 across (17.7" wide) in 3-3-3 proposed[70][note 7]
10 across (16.38" wide) in 3-4-3 proposed[71]
Airbus A380 2007- 4 560.0 tonnes[72] 6.55 metres (258 in)[72]
5.79 metres (228 in)[72]
7.14 metres (281 in)[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 tonnes[76] 6.10 metres (240 in)[77][note 8]
3.45 metres (136 in)[78]
6.50 metres (256 in)[78] 10 across (17.7" wide) in 3-4-3 on TG[79]
10 across (17.2" wide) in 3-4-3 on NW[80]
Boeing 767 1982- 2 204.1 tonnes[81] 4.72 metres (186 in)[82] 5.03 metres (198 in) 7 across (18.0" wide) in 2-3-2 on UA[83][84]
8 across (17.0" wide) in 2-4-2 on BY[85]
Boeing 777 1995- 2 351.5 tonnes[86] 5.87 metres (231 in)[87] 6.20 metres (244 in)[87] 9 across (18.5" wide) in 2-5-2 on AA[88]
9 across (18.0" wide) in 3-3-3 on UA[89]
10 across (17.5" wide) in 3-4-3 on EK[90]
Boeing 787 Dreamliner 2011[40] 2 245.0 tonnes[91] 5.46 metres (215 in) 5.77 metres (227 in)[92][93] 8 across (18.5" wide) in 3-2-3 proposed
8 across (18.5" wide) in 2-4-2 on ANA[94]
9 across (17.3" wide) in 3-3-3 on UA[95]
Ilyushin Il-86 1980–1994 4 208.0 tonnes[96]
[note 9]
5.70 metres (224 in)[96] 6.08 metres (239 in)[97] 9 across (18.0" wide) in 3-3-3 on SU[98]
Ilyushin Il-96 1992- 4 250.0 tonnes[99] 5.70 metres (224 in)[100] 6.08 metres (239 in)[101] 9 across (18.0" wide) in 3-3-3 on SU[102]
L-1011 TriStar 1972–1985 3 231.3 tonnes[103] 5.79 metres (228 in)[104][105] 6.02 metres (237 in) 9 across (17.0" wide) in 2-5-2 on SV[106][107]
9 across (17.0" wide) in 3-4-2 on BA[108]
MD DC-10 1971–1989 3 259.5 tonnes[109] 5.77 metres (227 in)[109] 6.02 metres (237 in)[109] 9 across (17.2" wide) in 2-5-2 on NW[110][note 10]
10 across (17.0" wide) in 3-4-3 on DE[111]
MD MD-11 1990–2001 3 286.0 tonnes[112] 5.69 metres (224 in)[112] 6.02 metres (237 in)[112] 9 across (17.5" wide) in 3-3-3 on KLM[113][114]
9 across (17.5" wide) in 2-5-2 on DL[115]
10 across (17.0" wide) in 3-4-3 on WO[116]
  1. ^ Entry into service through Final Production Year
  2. ^ Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of heaviest passenger version, to nearest tenth of a metric tonne.
  3. ^ Airlines custom-configure the interior layout as per their objectives. Aisle width and armrest width also affect layout but are not shown here.
  4. ^ The lightest widebody aircraft ever built was the Airbus A300B1 with a maximum take-off weight of 132 t (291,000 lb).[citation needed]
  5. ^ There appears to be a unit conversion error on the Airbus webpage for the A300 O.D. specifications. 5.64 metres (222 in) is presumed to be correct.
  6. ^ Possible error on original Airbus webpage, conversion of metric to imperial off by 1 inch on Airbus webpage.
  7. ^ Published article indicated most airlines will choose the 9-across configuration
  8. ^ Interior width for Boeing 747 main deck shown as 239 in (6.07 m) or 240 in (6.10 m) in Boeing documents.
  9. ^ Other references for the Ilyushin Il-86 MTOW ranged between 206 and 215 metric tonnes.
  10. ^ Retired from service in 2007.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]