From an airline industry perspective both the Boeing 787 and Airbus 350 will have a significant new technology impact. The current issues with the 787 will be overcome, that’s just a matter of time. It’s also too early to say who will have the advantage in the pursuit of lowest operating costs, though as with the debate between the 737 and A320 the total weight overhead of the airframe will be a key driver (as discussed here).
It was good news to see the A350 fly for the first time and to see the 787 back in the air again. These aircraft are both pushing design boundaries of new materials and aerodynamics and the issues; while having a significant impact are only minor in the overall context of what benefits these aircraft will deliver to the airline industry.
Looking at the relative operating economics between the 787 and the A350 isn’t possible yet, but the key performance characteristic both these aircraft offer that I think will be the biggest game changer is the range capability in conjunction with a much improved seat cost over current technology aircraft. Add to this the much improved cabin environment will also make these ultra long haul journeys a lot more enjoyable. Not all markets can sustain the size of an A380 type aircraft and as such there is more market scope for these smaller aircraft in my opinion to stimulate profitable growth. With fewer seats to sell to achieve “break even”; the opportunity for airlines to make money on long haul routes will provide a significant boost to the industry.
One interesting outcome could be growth of the no frills LCC market segment into the long haul market space as new markets are sought for further growth. This could also be the final straw for a number of struggling legacy long haul carriers with old fleet types that they can’t afford to replace and can’t afford to compete with the new generation aircraft with the lower operating costs.
When it comes to the range capability of both of these new generation aircraft, what the most interesting fact of aircraft range maps is not where they can fly, but rather where they cannot. These aircraft can’t fly (with a commercial payload anyway) the longest possible markets non-stop so will still require a stop somewhere for a number of key markets. What the range capability does offer up the possibility of new airport hubs (in conjunction with new point to point routes) and that could be a real game changer for some airlines and airports alike.
Some of the interesting markets these aircraft can’t do non-stop are between South East Asia/China and South/Latin America, between Australia and East Coast USA and Western Europe and most interestingly the only part of the world you can’t fly non-stop to from Dubai is the least populated part of Earth, the South Pacific Ocean.
Figures 1 to 3 show the range maps from Singapore, Sydney and Dubai which clearly identify the range “black spots”. For the purposes of this analysis I assumed a 14,800Km (8000 nautical miles) range capability for both the 787 and 350.
The 787-10 as a short haul variant is an interesting add-on for high density markets which currently have A330’s and short haul variant 777 aircraft operating and will be an interesting development to follow.
In the next article I will have a look at how an existing airport could become a significant new gateway hub with the 787 and A350. Most of these market changes will not happen until there are a significant number of these aircraft operating and any issues are fully resolved.