Fracturing the Pacific

From:         m@bang.org
Date:         11 Aug 1997 15:50:28 -0400
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caribb <caribb@promobility.net> wrote:
> It seems the same tendancy to have more direct flights between
> North America and Asia is occuring as it has happened between
> North America and Europe. Any comments?

It does seem we are seeing the beginning of a fracturing of the Pacific
market i.e. nonstop flights between an increasing number of city pairs,
avoiding hubs like NRT and SFO. The aircraft which fractured the Atlantic
market was the B767, which offerred range, the comfort of a widebody, and
few enough seats to operate in markets that could not support a large
plane.

The B767 did not fracture the Pacific, which is dominated by the B747-400.
Part of the reason is that the B767 is slower than a B747. While this
makes for US-Europe flight times 15-30 minutes longer, it make for
trans-Pacific flight times of nearly an hour longer. Airlines offering a
one hour shorter flight have a great advantage of over their slower
competitors. Another possible reason is that the B767 doesn't have
sufficient range to fly many of the interesting trans-Pacific city
pairs. But since the B767 is not used on even those trans-Pacific routes
for which it does have range (with the exception of SEL-SEA), I reject
this reason. From the US east coast to Asia requires a three or four
engined plane because there are no suitable places for an ETOPS aircraft
to land in the Arctic.

But there are still many routes from SFO and LAX to Asia which are not now
operated, either because the A340 and B747 are too big, or because these
aircraft don't have enough range. Examples of the former include SHA and
CAN.  Examples of the latter include BKK and SIN.

So what is needed to fracture the Pacific market is several new aircraft:
1) A four engine aircraft with enough range to operate JFK-HKG, JFK-SIN, etc. 
The A340-500 and B747-400IGW will be capable of operating JFK-HKG, but
probably not JFK-SIN.
2) An aircraft with the range to serve BKK, SIN, MEL, etc. from SFO and LAX. 
The B777-200X and, possibily, the A340-500 B747-400IGW will fill this role.
3) A smaller aircraft with enough speed and range to serve smaller US and 
Canadian cities from Asian hubs and from smaller Asian cities to US
hubs. To serve the northeastern US and Canada would require a four-engine
plane, and I don't expect to see any small four engine planes developed
any time soon.  DEN, DFW and other cities could have trans-Pacific service
with a twin, if such had the range and speed. Present 767s have
neither. The 777-200IGW and 777-200X have the range and speed, but are to
large to serve routes with less traffic than, say, DEN-NRT, DEN-HKG,
DFW-NRT. SLC-SEL, for example, needs a smaller plane.

There are many other possible routes for a small, fast, long-range
widebody.  Is there any possibility for such a plane? A rewinged B767
could do the job.  There are two problems though. One is that developing a
new wing for the B767 would cost about $2billion. The other is that the
engines used on B767s don't have a lot of room for growth. This would
limit the MGTOW, perhaps unacceptably. A rewinged A330 might also do the
job, though it would be larger, too large for some routes. The A330's
engines have more room for growth, but the cost of developing a new wing
is still severe (and for a possibly smaller market than a smaller rewinged
B767 could garner).

In sum, it is clear that the A340-500, B747-400IGW, and B777-200X, if
launched, will fracture the Pacific market to some significant degree.
Indeed, China Southern's new 777-200IGW LAX-CAN service is a beginning. I
expect that Airbus and Boeing will wait and see to what extent these
planes fracture the market before committing to the development of smaller
planes to finish the job.

M Carling
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