Switching to small: long-haul flights will use smaller planes
In the airline industry, big planes are disappearing. The current fleet of Boeing 747s and Airbus A380s is significantly smaller than it was a year ago. Moving away from huge, high-capacity planes, airlines are instead opting for smaller, more agile jets. In a pandemic environment this makes a lot of sense, but is it a trend that will stay with us for the long term?
“I think the airlines have realized that a 787 or an A350-900 is more useful in this environment, in terms of size and operating costs, than a bigger plane. Now how long this trend will continue is a little hard to say, but it has certainly been a setback for the Airbus [A380] and also for the 777X. ” – Steve Udvar-Hazy, President of Air Lease Corporation, CAPA Live
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Why small planes make sense
The reason for the popularity of large aircraft in the past was the desire to operate from larger and busier airports. Locations such as London Heathrow, New York JFK and Hong Kong International are constantly oversubscribed, making it difficult for airlines to grow by adding more services.
When airlines can’t add services, the only way to grow is to send bigger planes. This need has seen the rise of ever larger jets, the 747s, 777s, A340s and, of course, the A380. Air Lease Corporation President Steve Udvar-Hazy commented on this at a recent CAPA Live event, saying:
“I think the jumbo jet situation has changed a lot because for a while there was this fear in the airline industry… there would be slot restrictions. And the only way for an airline to grow is to have a bigger size with every departure. This led to the 380; the 747-8, so big was the way to go. This was the only way to allow airlines to offer more capacity with frequency limitations at many of these airports. Now the pendulum has gone the other way.
But times have changed. While A380 operators remain convinced that in some markets the aircraft makes sense, for the most part it is a relic of a bygone era. The biggest of the big planes are incredibly expensive to fly. Steal it less than full, and it will be bleeding money. The COVID crisis only served to add a full stop to the end of the A380 storybook.
Airlines today want more flexibility. They want to be able to take the least competitive routes and make the least demanded routes economically feasible. This is boosting the switch to smaller planes such as the 787 and the A330 for long-haul flights. Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates, explained it when he told Simple Flying:
“Widebody twins feature a lot in our plans, not so much for replacement… but for our ability to increase the frequency of already profitable city pairs and introduce new routes, which would be too big for a 777 or A380.”
The 787 will be a new addition to the Emirates fleet, but it’s not the only airline to go small. Lufthansa has used the pandemic as a springboard to offload its biggest and least economical planes. Routes that were previously heavy on A380s and A340s are being operated by A350s and A330s this summer.
Ultimately, smaller planes make sense for a multitude of reasons. They are easier to fill, cheaper to steal, and open up new opportunities to diversify into low-traffic markets. While the pandemic-induced slowdown has made smaller planes even more attractive, this shift to downsizing may well be a trend that continues even when 2020 is a distant memory.
How far can you go?
For most airlines, the shift to small size will mean embracing the lower end of the jumbo market. The 787 is an airline favorite, with optimal operating costs and pleasant comfort for passengers. The A330neo is another competitor, and to some extent so is the A350. But for some airlines, going small means getting rid of one of those aisles.
The A321LR has already proven its capabilities on longer routes. It is not uncommon to see the narrow body of Airbus making trips of six, seven or more hours. JetBlue flies the transatlantic aircraft this summer, with an exceptional business class product up front and a comfortable airspace interior in the rear. If it proves to be competitive, JetBlue will begin to push the price limits of transatlantic flights with its lower operating costs with this aircraft.
And that’s not all. The A321XLR is only a few years away. Its increased autonomy will allow it to fly non-stop from Sydney to Tokyo, Delhi to London or New York to Rome. On a narrow body. Udvar-Hazy previously noted,
“If these planes gain traction and can operate more of these sectors that last almost six, seven, eight hours, and maybe operate higher frequencies with a more flexible schedule compared to a jumbo, that will change the whole. diagram of what is happening.. “
Airlines that have ordered the A321XLR will not look for the time slot routes. JFK at Heathrow, for example, will always be better served by a bigger plane, despite JetBlue’s plan to shake things up. But a service from Stewart International (SWF) to London Southend (SEN) could still capture strong demand, but without too much competition.
Maybe in the future we will fly from smaller airports closer to home more often instead of having to walk for hours to the nearest mega-airport for our flights. long-haul. We may be spending more time on single-aisle airplanes or small, widebody airplanes.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.