Singapore Airlines just ended its nonstop flights from Singapore to Newark and Los Angeles. The world’s longest flight now is DFW to Sydney, Australia. What is the future of these ultra long range flights? The 777 orders offer a guide.
The table below illustrates 777 passenger jet orders from January 2000 through November 2013.The market for the longer range models is small, a niche. The -200ER offered better performance and quickly eclipsed the -200. No -200ERS have been ordered since 2009. The -300 was also eclipsed by the -300ER; and the -300ER has become the benchmark in its segment. The -200LR represents the longest range in-service airliner ever, but only accounts for 6% of orders.
Looking at interest in the 777X we see a similar pattern. The -8X can fly 9,300 miles with 350 passengers compared to ~9,400 miles with 301 passengers on the -200LR. The -9X will fly 400 passengers for 8,200 miles compared to the -300ER’s ~7,400 miles range with 365 passengers. The table shows the orders through December 26.While the -8X carries nearly the same load as the -300ER its range is unnecessary for the majority of airlines. About 85% of the 77X orders are for the -9X. As a replacement for the 747-400, the -9X is a better fit.
Qantas could replace its 7,700 mile range 747-400ERs with the -9X, making DFW-Sydney manageable without weight restrictions with the same seat capacity. Qantas could also deploy the -8X and perform nonstop flights from London Heathrow to Sydney, as the map below illustrates.
But it this worth it? We suspect not in airline economics terms. That said, the -8X has a remarkable ability to reach anywhere nonstop. A range map from Dubai shows almost no dark spots at all. Emirates will be able to reach any primary and secondary airport nonstop with the -8X. (Parts of French Polynesia appear unreachable; perhaps Emirates can live with that – for now)
Interest in the -8X comes from the region of the world where nonstop reach appears to be a critical requirement. Emirates is a vocal airline always wanting more range so it can reach any airport from Dubai. Etihad has a small -8X order in place and it appears the aircraft will be a niche fleet for them.
Current 777X orders underscore the market’s focus on the routes that do not require range in excess of 8,000 miles. As the map below illustrates an 8,000 mile range from Heathrow gets an airline and its passengers just about everywhere. We would guess that from Heathrow, more than 90% of the world market is covered by what the -9X is capable of. And in narrow, slimline economy seats with tight pitch it is going to be a horrible experience.