Re: Long-distance direct flights

Date:         27 Mar 2001 16:05:16 
From:         Janne Salonen <jesalone@leka.hut.fi>
Organization: Helsinki University of Technology
References:   1
Followups:    1 2 3
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On 23 Mar 2001, Robin Johnson wrote:

> 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 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.

Your post does not seem to have elicited much response, but I'll try my
hand.
Boeing's thesis is that A380-sized aircraft do not have sufficient market,
relying on megahubs and connecting feeder flights, and that direct traffic
between city pairs using smaller average aircraft size (B777, A330-A340)
is going to win market share.
Charter traffic really is for package tours and the like, seldom for
regular traffic, although more frequently unsold seats are being
offered on flight-only basis.
Regular traffic requires sufficient demand to fill planes several times a
week, scheduled destinations with only one or two departures a week are
seldom commercially viable. For example Finnair has canceled such
destinations (Osaka, San Francisco, Toronto). People flying from San
Francisco to Helsinki aren't going to wait around many days for the next
scheduled direct flight, they take the first one to Europe and change.

So, up to a point, Boeing can be right with its thesis of traffic moving
away from trunk routes, but on the other hand these will also remain,
because the traffic from, say, Helsinki to Denver will always be too
sparse to warrant a direct connection. On intercontinental or long
transcontinental routes, smaller than 250-300 seat aircraft are unlikely
to be competitive, and demand insufficient to fill such aircraft several
times a week is likely to use trunk lines and interconnecting feeders.

Another important factor, especially on destinations between Europe and
Asia, and I suspect between the US and Asia as well, is freight traffic,
which generates a fair bit of revenue for the airlines operating these
routes. A big part of the reason why Asian carriers have been ordering
A380's is the much-increased cargo capacity it offers compared with any
other airliner, and there is also interest in cargo versions of the
aircraft. And a cargo version of Boeing's 747X seems to be the closest to
market.

It seems that A380s will have a market, although it might take some while
until Airbus sells enough planes to cover development costs. Perhaps it
wouldn't be surprising if Boeing at some point tries to leapfrog A380 and
offers a still bigger plane.

One interesting alternative could in time be provided by airships, once
they can establish themselves. They should be able to offer much more
comfortable but slower flights than turbojets, and be more fuel
economical.

Janne Salonen
Helsinki, Finland