March 30, 2012 Thoughts on aircraft sizes
Thoughts on gauge
Commercial airplanes range from the very large A380, to the very small, CRJ-200 and smaller. With gas prices and specifically Jet-A hitting record highs, airlines are starting to re-evaluate their fleet plans.
Economists have preached the benefits of economy of size, aka bigger is better. However, this is not always the case. It takes X amount of gas to fly one passenger, and then it takes X+Y gallons of gas to fly two passengers. This proceeds along a U-curve. On the lower end, there are not enough passengers to justify the cost of flying the route. On the higher end, the so much fuel has to go into getting the plane in the air, no amount of passengers can justify the expense.
At the recent PHX aviation conference, Delta Airlines mentioned that are having to re-evaluate the use of the 50 seat regional jets. Delta uses these on regional routes out their hubs to airports where oddly enough there is no equivalent service on other carriers.
What this tells me is that the economics of the 50 seat regional jets just isn’t there. If airlines are in the position of not being able to sustain service on routes where these is no competition, it does not bode well for service to those cities.
On the higher end side, there will always be trunk routes NYC-LHR, for example that will always be able to justify service on the largest of jets. But those routes are fairly limited. The buyers of the A380’s are the larger airlines, that have well established hubs, with a significant amount of long-haul routes. SQ, LH, AF, EK, ect
The extremes show where there are no or limited economics. What is the sweet spot currently? The most popular plane in history is the 737, but this short/medium range plane doesn’t have the range to make full load TATL trips. The current multi-roll plane is the 757-200, developed in the 1980’s it currently flys TATL trips, intra-asia flights, short hops and trans-cons in the US.
The major problem with the 757, is that it is old and not in production. The frames that are in use are starting to come to the end of their useful service lives. Currently, there is no real replacement on the books for the 757. The A321 and 739ER doesn’t have the range of the 757. The 787 and A330-200 are both too big to be an effective replacement for the frame. Both Boeing and Airbus have released their next generation narrow bodies, and neither are designed to replace the 757. Boeing is trying to drive business to the 787, but the buyers are not flocking to the 787 as the repacement.
The market drives the producers. Both Boeing and Airbus look to the airlines for information on what their next set of aircraft that they will develop. The airlines do not seem to be clamoring for a 757 replacement, which begs the question, what plane will fill this niche ten years from now?