Long-distance direct flights

Date:         23 Mar 2001 17:40:12 
From:         robinjohnson@bigfoot.com (Robin Johnson)
Organization: North Antarctica
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Another thread has been discussing the A3XX size of aircraft, the
trend to smaller aircraft on trunk routes and for more hub-busting
routes.

I have noticed in Europe, where there seems to be a much higher
proportion of charter flights, the trend has gone further.

Some years ago I took a scheduled flight from London to Orlando.  On
that particular day, mine was the only scheduled arrival from Europe,
but there were many charter flights from various smaller cities,
including Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham, East Midlands, Cardiff and
several different German cities, and so on.  These flights are
obviously in accordance with traffic demand, and generally operate
full.  The great concentration of tourist attractions in Central
Florida is the cause.  Nowadays the main charter carriers are
investing in longer-range aircraft, but at the time many of these
flights staged through Bangor, Maine.  This airport has specialised in
transit traffic requiring Customs/Immigration clearance.

Holiday charters have now started from Britain (Gatwick, Luton and
Manchester) to Australia and New Zealand.  These flights (in 767-300s
at the moment) usually make two en-route stops (e.g. Bahrain and
Singapore) and operate to several Australian airports, some of which
have to provide Customs/Immigration clearance not otherwise required
(Coolangatta, Hamilton Island, Alice Springs) on a low-frequency
basis.  They do not carry mail or cargo.

I'd suggest to those people who think non-stop flights between any
city pair on the globe are coming that the charter flights, which by
definition give a good measure of demand, are a good indication that
this will not happen.  If there is enough traffic, there will
eventually be flights - but factoring into the equation are problems
like the time passengers will sit in the one seat, aircrew duty hours,
duplication of government facilities, and the economic payload/range
characteristics of various aircraft types as they become available.
The longest flight stages at present operated by scheduled airlines
run about 15 hours, at which range payload is limited.  Where
practicable, aircraft configurations biased towards premium fares are
used.  This will probably still be true when 18-hour stages start, if
they do, in a few years.  London-Perth might be one such, or New
York-Singapore.  Aircrew rest positions away from the main deck are
being on the drawing boards - they already exist on some 747-400s.

I find it hard to believe there will ever be sufficient traffic at
economic fares to justify scheduled nonstop flights on more than a
small number of these very-long-haul routes.  There will continue to
be a concentration on hub cities for very large aircraft, and flights
by smaller aircraft will cover pairs of smaller cities.

If anyone has information on actual journey origin/destinations over
time, as opposed to sector traffic, this may throw some light on the
demand side.  After all, some years ago when there were no nonstop
flights from (say) Charlotte to Europe, passengers must have taken
less direct routes.  On a recent trip on this route, most of the
passengers were still connecting at one or both ends.

Robin Johnson