How many aircraft models are there

Distinguishing between aircraft 101: Boeing, Airbus and Co.

There are certainly many travelers who have already traveled several 100,000 km by air and not even one Boeing 747 of a Airbus A380 can distinguish. After all, all airplanes have two wings, engines ... and an airplane shape. However, if you know the decisive features, you can recognize the various aircraft models in a flash.

Recognize the most flown machines

The most flown machines today include:

  • Airbus A380 (double decker)
  • Boeing 747 (double decker)
  • Airbus A330 / A340 / A350 (wide-body aircraft)
  • Boeing 767/777/787 (wide-body aircraft)
  • Airbus A320 family (narrow-body aircraft)
  • Boeing 737 (narrow-body aircraft)

As you can see, most passenger planes are supplied by only two manufacturers: Airbus and Boeing.

While the two manufacturers provide machines for long and short distances, you can occasionally find smaller names among the short distance machines. These include, for example, Embraer and Bombardier. In this article, however, I will only cover the two giants among manufacturers: Airbus and Boeing.

Airbus and Boeing: Manufacturers recognize at first glance

In order to be able to differentiate between Airbus and Boeing with relative certainty, two features are sufficient: the aircraft's nose and cockpit window. There are a few exceptions, but both properties are largely constant across the machines of the two manufacturers.

At Airbus, the nose of the aircraft is compared to Boeing more rounded and thus appears shorter. The cockpit windows are on the sides approximately on a line. In addition, the upper corner of the outer cockpit window is "cut off" on many Airbus aircraft.

At Boeing is the nose Sharpener—This appears longer than at Airbus. The cockpit windows form a on the sides wide "V":

Notice: Airbus: round nose, straight window — Boeing: pointed nose, “window V”

Narrow-body vs. wide-body aircraft

First of all, it makes sense to divide the aircraft mentioned above into narrow-body and wide-body aircraft. In general, narrow-body aircraft fly regionally, i.e. on short-haul routes. Wide-body aircraft, on the other hand, are mainly used for long-haul flights.

picture: Above you can see a typical wide-body aircraft, the Boeing 777. Below, and significantly smaller, a narrow-body aircraft, the Boeing 737.

Narrow-body aircraft

To the narrow-body aircraft belong the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 family.

The aircraft are particularly easy to recognize because they are shorter and narrower than wide-body aircraft. If you are in one, you will find that the plane only has one aisle. That's why they are in English too single-aisle aircraft (one-aisle aircraft) called.

The Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 all have only one aisle and are therefore smaller and narrower than their larger counterparts.

Wide-body aircraft

The wide-bodied aircraft include Airbus A380, A330, A340, A350 and Boeing 747, 767, 777 and 787.

Wide-body aircraft are significantly larger than narrow-body aircraft. With two instead of one aisle, these are also called twin-aisle aircraft in English. In order to be able to lift the heavyweights into the air, some of these aircraft have four instead of two engines. The Airbus A380, A340 and Boeing 747 each have four engines.

Airbus A380 vs. Boeing 747

The two giants among the passenger aircraft are quite easy to distinguish. The Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747 are namely the only "double deckers" among the passenger planes. While the second deck on the A380 extends over the entire length of the aircraft, on the Boeing it only extends up to about a third. Besides the Airbus A340, the two aircraft are the only relevant passenger aircraft with four engines each.

Image: Airbus A380. The two rows of windows are particularly easy to see here. With space for up to 853 passengers, the Airbus A380 is also the largest passenger aircraft in the world. As with all aircraft of this size, with a range of around 14,800 km, it is used for long-haul flights between the so-called hubs (or major airports) around the world.

You can find the A380 at:

  • Lufthansa
  • British Airways
  • Emirates
  • Singapore Airlines

Image: Boeing 747. In particular, the Boeing characteristic “hump” should quickly catch the eye. Here the second row of windows only extends up to about a third of the aircraft. As with many aircraft, different models of the Boeing 747 are in circulation, all of which have the same “hump”.

Above all, the length differs between the models, with the latest Boeing 747-8 being the longest passenger aircraft in the world at 76.3 m. With a maximum of 605 passengers, the 747 has to admit defeat to the Airbus. However, since there are a good four times as many Boeing 747s as there are Airbus A380s in circulation, the probability that you will fly this aircraft is higher.

You can find the aircraft e.g. at:

  • Lufthansa
  • British Airways
  • Korean Air
  • Atlas Air

Airbus A320 Family vs. Boeing 737

In aviation, the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families mainly cover flights with 150 to 200 passengers and ranges of up to 7400 km. Both types of aircraft are the best-selling passenger aircraft overall and therefore also the most flown. If your aircraft only has one aisle (narrow-body aircraft), it is most likely an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 737.

It is particularly easy to distinguish between the two types of aircraft at the tail (tail unit) and at the engines.

1. Distinction of the tail unit

The airbus has one from the fuselage to the tail unit rounded transition (Picture above) while Boeing a “Additional” area which merges from the fuselage at an acute angle to the tail unit (picture below).

2. Distinction between engines

At Airbus, the engines are almost perfectly round (Picture above), while at Boeing (especially with the newer models) the engines flattened near the ground are.

If you've ever flown with Ryanair, you've already been in a Boeing 737. At the moment, the Boeing 737-800 is the only aircraft model used by Ryanair. But the Boeing 737 is also the most popular passenger aircraft ever produced worldwide.

While most airlines use both aircraft models, you can find them Boeing 737 especially with American airlines.

Main customer:

  • Ryanair (Ireland)
  • Southwest Airlines (USA)
  • United Airlines (USA)
  • American Airlines (USA)

The Airbus A320 family on the other hand, it is more strongly represented in Europe and Asia.

Main customer:

  • easyJet (UK)
  • China Eastern Airlines (China)
  • China Southern Airlines (China)
  • American Airlines (USA)

Recognizing the Boeing 737 MAX

Especially after the two accidents involving the Boeing 737 MAX 8, more and more passengers are trying to avoid this type of aircraft. It shouldn't be difficult by now, as all the major airlines no longer want to use their 737 MAX machines until the problem has been completely resolved.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 is the successor to the Boeing 737-800 shown above. The cause of the two accidents is at least partially the newly installed software or hardware solution, which was necessary due to larger and more economical engines.

Boeing already had visible space problems on the 737-800, hence the flattened engine nacelles. In order to still be able to use the larger engines, they had to be moved on the wing - the changed flight behavior was to be compensated for by new software. A compensation made on all Boeing 737 MAX series aircraft.

A Boeing 737 MAX machine can be recognized easily by its wing tips or winglets. In contrast to the old Boeing 737 models, these form an almost perfect V shape (AT Winglet). In addition, they are Engines on the wing moved further up & forward. The other features of a Boeing 737 are retained.

Airbus A330 / A340 / A350 wide-body aircraft

Since these are wide-body aircraft, these models are on average a good 25 meters longer than the narrow-body aircraft Airbus A320 or Boeing 737.

Airbus A330 and A340 are among the older aircraft models. Airlines have been using the A330 since 1994 — the A340 since 1993.

The Airbus A350 is the successor to the A340. This has therefore only been in circulation for a few years, since January 2015. The Airbus A350 brings with it many technical innovations and thus, above all, flies more efficiently than its predecessors. E.g. it is the airliner with the largest proportion of carbon fiber reinforced plastic in the fuselage and wings.

Airbus A330

The Airbus A330 is used as a medium to long-haul aircraft. You can recognize the machine mainly by:

  • classic wingletspointing diagonally upwards
  • the typical Airbus Cockpit windows, whereby the upper right corner of the outer cockpit windows is "cut off"

Airbus A340

The Airbus A340 is similar to the A330 in many ways. However, this aircraft was designed as a pure long-haul aircraft. To increase the range, the A340 has a larger fuel tank than the A330.

In order to be able to carry the extra weight, the load was increased four engines distributed — which makes it easy to distinguish between the two planes.

Airbus A350

Where previously four engines were required, two are now sufficient. The successor to the A340 has a longer range with better efficiency.

The Airbus A350 can be recognized by the following features:

  • The winglets flow into the wing (blended winglets)
  • The cockpit windows are no longer square, but rounded. The outer cockpit windows form almost semicircles.

Boeing 767/777/787 wide-body aircraft

What Airbus can do, Boeing can do too. Boeing 767, 777 and 787 are thus the direct competition to the above-mentioned wide-body aircraft from Airbus.

Boeing 767 and 777 are among the older aircraft models. The 767 has been used by airlines since 1982 — the 777 since 1995.

The Boeing 787 is the successor to the 767. The Boeing 787 has been in circulation since 2011 and, like the Airbus A350, brings an update in technology and efficiency compared to the older models.

Boeing 767

The Boeing 767 is one of the most successful long-haul aircraft overall. Like almost all Boeing aircraft, the cockpit windows have the typical V-shape.

Originally the Boeing 767 was delivered without winglets — winglets have been offered for retrofitting since 2008. Both variants are in circulation today: without winglets and with blended winglets (Picture).

Boeing 777

The Boeing 777 is also a long-haul aircraft. However, it is significantly larger compared to the Boeing 767. On average, the Boeing 777 is a good 15 meters longer and the cabin a little more than a meter wider, which means that the aircraft has room for two additional rows of seats Has.

In contrast to the Boeing 767, the Boeing 777 exists only without winglets. Another feature that helps distinguish is the auxiliary power unit at the rear of the machine. The Boeing 777 is the only aircraft with that Tail "sawn off" appears. On other machines this has a round shape.

Boeing 787

The Boeing 787, also known as the Dreamliner, is also a long-haul aircraft and replaces the Boeing 767. In terms of size and passenger capacity, they are therefore similar.

Like other Boeing aircraft, the Boeing 787 has no winglets. However, there are two new features that can be seen at first glance:

  • The cockpit now only has four instead of the classic six windows. This means that only two windows can be seen from the side.
  • The engine nacelles have one zigzag trailing edgedesigned to reduce noise emissions (chevrons).


If you know the correct characteristics, it is very easy to distinguish between the most common aircraft.

If you can tell the above planes apart, you can do for over 90% of the flights flown commercially worldwide determine the respective aircraft. That doesn't sound bad, does it?

Paying attention? Here's a little quiz at the end: Which aircraft is behind the cover picture?

And: Which aircraft do you generally prefer to fly with?Leave a comment!

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John Hoffmann


Aviation Student. Data collector. Travel optimizer.