We came across this chart and think it is very useful when considering the issue of range for single aisle airplanes. The argument put forward is summarized on the left and is cogent. Elsewhere on this site you can listen to the view put forward by Lufthansa’s fleet buyer that his airline buys planes for specific markets. The view from Lufthansa concurs with the position put forward by Rolls-Royce’s Mr Nuttal. It would seem then that airlines are best served by buying aircraft that fit the performance profile of the mission they are going to perform.
But looking at the preponderance of evidence you see that airlines in fact do not buy airplanes this way. Indeed, it could be argued that most airlines buy airplanes that are compromises. That is to say, airplanes are used for all sorts of routes regardless of the airplane’s specific capabilities. The most obvious example would be the 737NG in the US market. Yes it has transcon capabilities. But most flights undertaken are much shorter. Is this a “misuse” of the airplane?
Not at all. It would seem that airlines prefer mission flexibility. While its true Alaska Airlines uses 737s to fly as far as Hawaii, range may not the airplane’s primary attraction for the airline. The airline could argue it is the 737’s flexibility that enables it to fly short routes and long hauls effectively that make it so attractive. Airlines are therefore probably better off finding an airplane that is capable of any route in its system; it allows for last minute flexibility when unplanned events impact schedule. These disruptive events have the potential to cause system wide problems and costs. So having “too much gun” in the airline world may be expensive up front, but over the long run it is probably a wash when flexibility is considered. There are so many variables that interrupt airline operations. Having “too much gun” is good way to maximize flexibility and protect schedules.