Boeing and Airbus shift to regional,short routesAfter focusing for years on jetliners that could fly ever further, the world’s leading plane manufacturers are turning to shorter range aircraft that appeal to airlines reluctant to pay for performance they don’t need. Boeing and Airbus have spent billions of dollars building advanced jets capable of flying a third of the way round the world non-stop, but economic change has forced a new adjustment in strategy.
Boeing launched a new version of its Dreamliner at the Paris Airshow in June by chopping 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) from the range of its newest jet and giving it a longer fuselage and more seats.
It says the 787-10 Dreamliner will be its most cost-efficient aircraft yet, optimized for regional operations including Asia.
Within days, Airbus pulled from its drawer plans for a new “regional” version of its A350.
And after years of enhancing its older A330 to give it more range, it announced it would also offer a regional version of that plane for short trips. Sources say it will be aimed at the Chinese and Indian domestic markets. The decisions reflect both a battle between traditional rivals and a broader economic shift. Asia’s newly affluent nations are increasingly trading among themselves.
Half the world’s traffic growth in the next 20 years will involve Asia and traffic within the region is growing fastest. Although confidence is wobbling as China’s economy slows, Boeing predicts travel within Asia will grow 6.5 percent a year over the next two decades, versus a 5-percent global average.
The top three growth routes are in South and Southeast Asia, all with shorter distances than premier jets were designed for.
Regional powerhouse Singapore saw what may have been the first major deal involving the shorter-stride models. Singapore Airlines bought 30 each of the 787-10 and A350-900 jets in deals worth $17 billion in June and industry sources say these probably included the scaled-down A350 regional version.
The response to such demand has been radically different. Boeing has pledged to build a new member of its 787 family by stretching the upcoming 787-9 to add more seats. The resulting extra load means the 323-seat 787-10’s range is automatically shortened but airlines can earn more revenue.