• How to differentiate between Boeing and Airbus aircraft

    A useful guide to surprise your friends

A popular pastime among aviation enthusiasts is visiting airports to observe different types of aircraft, as mentioned in our posts about spotting and what is a livery.

Getting started in identifying aircraft models with the naked eye can be a little tricky, so to make it easier, here are some useful tips to help you know exactly which aircraft you are looking at any given moment.

How to tell the difference between an Airbus A320 and a Boeing 737

Airbus and Boeing are, without a doubt, the two most important manufacturers in the world, so it is likely that their aircraft are the ones we see most often at airports.

Of all their models, the most common in Europe are the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737. So how do we tell them apart?

By the nose

The nose of the aircraft is the main key to distinguish them. While the A320 and, in general, all Airbus aircraft have a more rounded nose, the Boeing 737 has a sharper nose.

It is worth mentioning that we refer to the nose of the aircraft as the radome, i.e. the weather radar antenna cover.

Through the cockpit window

The cockpit window is another important clue. On Airbus aircraft, cockpit windows are more square in shape, while on Boeing aircraft they tend to be more elongated.

By the nose landing gear

Another useful feature to differentiate an Airbus 320 from a Boeing 737 is the length of the nose landing gear. The Boeing’s landing gear is shorter, making the aircraft closer to the ground than the Airbus.

Because of the mask

In the most recent versions of its aircraft, generally the Neo version, Airbus is incorporating what is popularly known as a “mask”. The windscreen has a curved design that closely resembles a mask, and this feature is unique to Airbus.

Although it may not look like it, this design significantly improves the aerodynamics of the aircraft, so we will go into this in more detail in another aviation publication.

The shape of the engines

Finally, we want to mention the engines. The engines of the Boeing 737 are characterised by being “flat” at the bottom, while those of the Airbus A320 maintain the circular shape.

By the strobe lights

Now that you know how to tell the difference between an A320 and a B737 during the day, you may be wondering: Can you tell the difference between a Boeing and an Airbus at night? Of course! You can tell them apart even in total darkness.

The trick is in the frequency of the strobe lights. On the Airbus, the strobes flash twice at a time, while on the Boeing they flash once.

How to differentiate between different Airbus aircrafts

Now that you know how to tell the difference between an A320 and a B737, you may want to learn how to distinguish the different models of the A320 family. Here are a few tips:

Emergency exits

The first thing to notice is that the quickest way to tell them apart is to look at the emergency exits.

  • The A319 has 6 emergency exits, three on each side, distributed as follows: one at the front, one over the wing and one at the rear.
  • The A320 has 8 emergency exits, four on each side, distributed as follows: one at the front, two over the wing and one at the rear.
  • The A321 also has 8 emergency exits, four on each side, but with the difference that, instead of having 2 on the wing, these are distributed along the fuselage.

Easyjet A319

As with all rules, there is always an exception, and in this case it is Easyjet’s A319s.

Easyjet asked Airbus to add two more rows of seats to its A319s, from 144 to 156 passengers.

After making the modification, the aviation authority realised that it was not possible to evacuate the aircraft within 90 seconds, so Airbus had to install a second emergency exit on the wing.

Easyjet A319s now have the same number of emergency exits as any A320. Interesting, isn’t it?

And what about the A318?

You have probably noticed that we have not mentioned the A318, but we have not overlooked it.

The A318 has six emergency exits, three on each side, just like the A319, so the emergency exit trick does not work here.

The best way to tell them apart is to look at its size. The A318 is characterised as the smallest version of the A320 family, and is easily distinguishable at a first glance.

The large size of the vertical stabiliser on the tail, compared to the fuselage, is another trick to identify it.

How to differentiate the Boeing 787 from the Boeing 777 or 767

Another family that can be a little tricky to differentiate is Boeing’s long-range family. But do not worry, here are a few tips and tricks:

Boeing 787

The B787 is Boeing’s most modern model. It is distinguished by its rounded nose and a kind of mask, but, without a doubt, the most useful feature to identify it are the chevrons: those undulations on the engines that we already mentioned in the linked post.

Differences between the B767 and the B777

As with the A320 family, the best way to differentiate the Boeing 767 from the 777 is to look at the emergency exits.

The B777 has four on each side, distributed along the fuselage, while the B767 also has four, but two of them are on the wing.

Another method of differentiating between them is to count the number of wheels on the main landing gear: the B777 has six wheels, while the 767 has only four.

And finally, the size of the engines and fuselage also allows us to distinguish the differences between them: the diameter of the B777 is almost a metre larger than that of the B767.

How to differentiate between Bombardier aircraft

Another common family of aircraft at our airports is the Bombardier CRJ, now known as the CRJ Series.

The CRJ 200 is the smallest model in the family and, in addition to its small size, is characterised by having only two emergency exits on each side: one at the front and one on the wing.

Differentiating the CRJ 900 from the CRJ1000 becomes a little more complicated, as both versions have three emergency exits on each side: one at the front and two over the wing.

There are also no other visual clues to help us tell them apart, so we can only go by the number of rows each has. Depending on the company, the CRJ1000 has 3 or 4 more windows than the CRJ900.

Now you know how to recognise the different commercial aircrafts

We hope this article has been useful and that, next time you go spotting, you will be able to quickly distinguish the different aircraft models.

Well, if you’re not into photographing planes, at least now you have some interesting facts to share with your companions the next time you go to the airport.

If you want to continue expanding your knowledge, we recommend that you take a look at our aviation blog, where we explain interesting topics such as what type of fuel planes use or what g-force is. Don’t miss it!

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