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Bigger Planes for Shorter Routes?

The number of regional and domestic flight passengers is on the rise, expected to double in the next 20 years or so. With that, there needs to be a way for shorter routes to carry more people. Is it time to start using larger planes for shorter hauls?

Not that long ago, long-haul flights got shiny new equipment: bigger planes with more capacity for flying passengers. Now, though, the discussion is shifting to a different market – short-haul routes.

Skift reported recently that the latest numbers from Boeing show an increase in regional and domestic air passengers, expecting traffic on regional routes to double by 2036. And air traffic is already congested; flights between Sydney and Melbourne take off every ten minutes, and some Asian routes are even more crowded.

The jumbo jets used for intercontinental travel are too big, though, so Boeing recently proposed a new type of aircraft: the 797. With this plane, airlines expect to be able to carry between 225 and 275 passengers on shorter routes, and with a two-aisle configuration, turnaround time between flights will shrink as disembarkation speeds up.

It’s not a new idea, though, to use higher-capacity planes on shorter routes. Boeing already tried in the 1980s, and those planes were then left to collect dust as the 737 and A320 took over airspace. The issue here is that smaller planes are easier to fill—and the fuller a plane is, the more money the airline is making. Anything 70 percent or less of capacity is basically a waste of money.

But with increasing air traffic, the 797 may be a necessary reality for the shorter routes. Only time will tell.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

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sddjd March 20, 2018

"Boeing already tried in the 1980s" In the 80's short/medium haul was in a large part served by wide-bodies very successfully, but not Boeings. The DC-10 and L-1011 were dominant in the twin aisle domestic markets. Airbus' raison d'etre was entry into the short/medium haul market to counter that dominance. Boeing didn't begin to enter until the mid 80's with the 75/67 line, with designs suited to both the then volatile fuel market and an eye for med/long range flights based on customer input. Transcontinental flights were almost solely the realm of the wide-body until the advent of point-to-point's explosive growth and the later range and efficiencies of single aisle twins. Carriers selling frequency vs hub and spoke also contributed heavily to the single aisle market we see today. Now with capacities being tested the industry is again looking to the criteria that created the -10's, Tristars, and a300 lines.