Dreamliner flies… making more long ‘thin’ routes viable

So we know it works. But where will it fly to? With an expected range of up to 15,000 kilometres the Dreamliner will be able to open up ‘thinner’ routes where current demand would be insufficient to fill a 777. United to Stockholm? Etihad to Boston? British Airways to Detroit? Dream on route planners…

So it works then. Unless you were living in a cave or on Venus you would have noticed that the much-anticipated maiden flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner finally took place this week. Airlines have placed orders for over 800 of the various types of 787 that will eventually be offered, United being the most recent addition when it placed an order for 25 earlier this month. Launch customer ANA has also ordered more than any other airline (55), although lessor ILFC has ordered 70 to place with others. ANA is also likely to be the first airline to operate the aircraft commercially some time towards the end of 2010, assuming flight certification goes according to plan.

Chart: Boeing 787 Dreamliner orders - Top 15 airline customers and planned entry into service date
Source: Boeing Commercial Airplanes

In terms of size, the aircraft is very similar to the existing twin aisle 767-300, the basic -800 being just two metres longer than the 767. Typical seating configurations will see the 787 carry between 210 and 250 passengers. The new aircraft’s key feature is its greater use of composite materials which make the aircraft lighter and more fuel efficient, giving it considerably greater range, even compared with the 767-300ER. With an expected range of between 14,000 and 15,000 kilometres (similar to the 777-200ER and 777-300ER), it will be able to open up ‘thinner’ routes where current demand would be insufficient to fill a 777. According to OAG, there are currently seven airport-pairs served with a sector length of over 13,000 kilometres. All of these long routes are currently operated by either 777s or A340s.

Chart: Longest non-stop flights - Sector length in kilometres
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 14 December 2009

Potential to serve new markets

Middle East carriers feature heavily with Etihad, Gulf Air, Royal Jordanian and Qatar Airways among the leading purchasers. From here, several more US destinations are likely to become viable. At present, these carriers (and Emirates) only serve Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington. So the Dreamliner may increase the chance of direct services from the Middle East to the likes of Atlanta, Boston, Dallas/Ft Worth, Denver and Las Vegas.

North American carriers (Air Canada, Continental and United have already placed orders) may be able to serve new markets in Europe. United currently only serves 10 European destinations from Chicago and Washington Dulles. Other destinations such as Barcelona, Copenhagen, Madrid, Milan, Oslo, Stockholm and Vienna may then be more viable.

Finally, UK long-haul rivals British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will both see the aircraft as having the potential to open new North American routes. BA currently operates to just 16 US airports non-stop from Heathrow. Additional routes could include Charlotte, Detroit, Minneapolis / St Paul, Pittsburgh and San Diego.


  1. Jim Riggs says:

    Use of a new tool such as the 787, opens new horizons and promises new connections not yet used in the world market. As much as revenue is the lifeblood of the airline industry, I am excited about the introduction of the 787, as its newness and unique characteristics will bring new passengers to the thrill of flying. Much in the same vein as when I first saw a DC-3 around the age of six and made up my wish to someday be around and in airplanes. That wish has been fulfilled and the 787 only extends it further. I am going to be on it every chance I get!!!!!

  2. Phil Cook says:

    Covering the so called thin routes is clearly a benifit the 787 ofers to prime carriers operating 787’s out of main hubs may not be quite so easy as the main problem will be prime hub slot allocation. As the commercial airline industry recovers & load factors increase the aircraft may well be forced to medium & short haul routes or long haul slim routes that avoid many of the main hubs.

    As the aircraft has only just taken to the air & is yet to prove it’s somewhat ambitious performance objectives & weight objectives we need to sit back & wait to see if the carriers get the product promised befor Boeings dream is partially or fully realised.

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