Monday, 14 December 2015

The age of the Jumbo Jet is drawing to a close

It's time to say goodbye to the Jumbo Jet, the aeroplane that changed the airline industry and took Concorde's crown.

In 1969 the world of civil aviation believed the future was going to be supersonic, and there was only one game in town; Concorde. But it didn't happen like that.

Boeing had produced a freighter in a bid to win a contract for the US Air Force. They lost, and the Lockheed Galaxy won. The civil market for a freighter was limited so Boeing cast around for a role for this behemoth, and decided to try to sell it as an airliner. Traditionally the airline industry had catered for a small but wealthy market; if you could afford it, you flew the Atlantic. If not, you went by sea and it took several days instead of several hours. Concorde was going to be very fast indeed, but also very expensive to travel on, which fitted this model well. The future looked rosy for the beautiful white bird and options for Concordes rolled in. Every major airline wanted to operate it.

However, all that was about to change. When the airlines saw Boeing's giant 747 Jumbo Jet, with over 500 passenger seats, they realised that the operating cost per seat would be a lot lower than on their narrow body jets so they could reduce fares and address a whole new, and much bigger, market. The ethos of the airline industry changed - the focus went off ever higher speed, and onto ever lower seat cost, where it remains today.

The Boeing 747 was the aeroplane that truly changed the airline industry, and in so doing brought about the financial death of Concorde. Every one of those options on the supersonic airliner fell away and in the end only fourteen production Concordes were built. Seven each for the two then state airlines of its producing countries, British Airways and Air France.

But now the mighty 747 is itself being usurped by the efficient new twin jets such as the triple seven.

'Business Insider' magazine continues the story.....

For more than 40 years, the wide-body jumbo jet ruled the skies. But with changes to aviation regulation, airline business strategy and improvement in turbofan engine technology, the days of huge aircraft are drawing to a close.

Since its introduction in 1969, the Boeing 747 has transformed the way people travel. With its ability to fly 500 passengers 6,000 miles, the jumbo jet allowed airlines to reach new destination while achieving profitability by lowering the per-seat cost of operation.

Over the years, the big Boeing was joined in the long-haul wide-body market by offerings from McDonnell Douglas, Lochkeed, and Airbus. In 2005, Airbus introduced the double-deck A380-800 — perhaps the most capable rival the Boeing jumbo jet had ever encountered.

But these days Boeing and Airbus are having a hard time finding new buyers for both aircraft. The cost of purchasing such a large aircraft, combined with the fact that they're relatively energy inefficient, makes them impractical.

Demand for the big jets has also dwindled as aviation regulations changed, airlines moved away from the hub-and-spoke model for their routes, and as jet-engine technology improved — making it safer for aircraft to fly long distances with just two engines.

In the last eight years, Boeing has sold just 45 jumbos — the majority of which are to be deployed as heavy freighters, and earlier this year Boeing announced it will be cutting back 747 production to just one per month. Airbus hasn't won an airline order for the double-decker jet since it sold Emirates a batch two years ago.

James Hogan, the chief executive of Emirates' rival Etihad was unequivocal when asked by Business Insider if the group will buy another four-engine jet.

"No, we're done," Hogan said. "We just believe in two-engine technology — they are much more efficient."

If fact, Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger told Business Insider earlier this year that he's surprised Airbus was able to find as many takers for the A380 as they have.

Long-distance and transoceanic flights were traditionally exclusively covered by the 747 and its fellow three- or four-engine, wide-body jumbos because, when it comes to the engine count on an airliner, the thinking was that there is safety in numbers.

But as modern turbofan engines became more reliable, and engine failures far less common — the thinking, and the regulations changed. As a result, most airlines have turned to twin-engine mini-jumbos that are more fuel efficient.

Furthermore, airlines are moving away from the "hub and spoke" business model that calls for massive numbers of the passengers to be routed through a single mega-hub. Smaller, fuel-efficient jets such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner allow airlines to offer passengers nonstop, point-to-point service without transiting through a hub.


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