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As of today, no US passenger airlines operate the Boeing 747 (arstechnica.com)
266 points by rcarmo on Jan 8, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 242 comments

If anyone finds the operation of airlines a fascinating topic, you might like Wendover Productions: https://www.youtube.com/user/Wendoverproductions

How airlines price flights https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72hlr-E7KA0

The little plane war https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1YMPk3XhCc

Why planes don't fly faster https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1QEj09Pe6k

The economics of Airline Class https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzB5xtGGsTc

How airlines schedule flights https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGXahSnA_oA

I just recently found the channel. So much good stuff. (My unrelated favorite is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j48Z3W35FI0 How the US government will survive doomsday.)

Wendover is truly fantastic. Also a very soothing voice, which I'm sure helps

I recently travelled on one of BA's "refurbished" 747's and I hated every minute of it. Noisy, cramped facilities, find the A380, 777 and 787 far more comfortable for a long haul flight.

The 747 was amazing, when it was introduced, but it has now reached an age where it needs to retire gracefully, and point to point with twin engines is seeing to that.

I travelled on both the A380 (Emirates) and the 787 (Oman Air) in the last year and they are really a big step forward. I would put them above the 777, maybe it's the specific configuration used by Qatar Airways (777-300ER) but they simply weren't as good as the other too.

Also flown a A350-900 with Qatar Airways and it was really close to the A380, seat were very pleasant.

As for the noise in planes: if you travel a lot by planes, buy active noise reduction headphones. Bose QuietComfort 35 or 25 work very very well. Try them out first if possible, a small amount of people dislike the feeling they give with noise reduction active, but for me it was a world changer as I take about 2 planes a month, my 35 were one of the best purchase I ever made.

I very recently got a pair of QC35s. The noise cancelling was neat, but didn't seem that useful in every day situations. Then I took a flight with them, and they still didn't seem that interesting. Until I took them off for the first time after take off. I was amazed at how loud the plane suddenly become. Now I'm very impressed with how much of a difference they make, and will definitely be bringing with me on every flight.

It is very helpful in office too. Just turning the noise cancellation on without any music. It cuts out the ever present noises like the hum from the HVAC, which I didn't even know was there.

and very quiet music is enough to even drown out conversations, when combined with the noise canceling. It's almost like magic.

I use them:

In car for long drives

In office

In bed when someone snores next to me

In bed when street outside is loud

On a boat when motoring

On every flight

Don't use them in cars. That's incredibly irresponsible both to yourself/others in your car and those driving alongside you, not to mention illegal in a lot of places. You use audio cues far more often than you realize while driving.

They said when they're in a car - not when they're driving a car.

I once wondered what states have laws against headphones/earbuds and was astonished not only by how many places don't have laws, but how many that do have laws that specifically say its okay (or okay with one ear uncovered). Going in I expected to find near universal laws against it.

Yeah I think it's because most of the laws were written a few years ago, where in-car Bluetooth wasn't common but one-ear headsets were. Lawmakers probably didn't want to outright exclude phone use in the car, and figured having one ear in use was "good enough".

Most modern distraction laws (the ones actually written nowadays) are very thorough. WA just passed one last year where you essentially can't touch your phone while driving. BC has had one for a few years now which includes any non-fixed electronic device while the car is running.

There aren't that much of cues when you are the only car in a highway (I use them as a passenger too, but mostly when I drive alone for a long distance, usually somewhere remote, listening a podcast).

As for cues, the vibration from road surface is still there and plenty of cars come with ANC built-in. These headphones don't block noise completely, things like police alarms, honks or speech are still very easy to hear. I can even hear the wind from AC vents (if it blows directly into ANC's mic's).

I doubt the claim of "plenty" of cars coming with ANC built in, but even if all cars came with it, that form of noise cancellation is to national safety standards, specifically for the use of being in a car while on the road. The ANC in Bose headphones are for an entirely different purpose so it's like comparing apples to oranges.

Furthermore, Bose, and basically all other ANC headphones work at isolating and cancelling off the low frequencies you'd typically find in plane engines, which are also most of the time the kinds of frequencies that are also used on a boring road trip where you're the only one on a long stretch of highway (your exact use case). Speech and honks and police alarms aren't things you'd expect to find in this scenario, but early warnings of your car breaking down, or things happening outside of your car that would affect your car do.

Seriously, stop using your headphones while driving. It's illegal in many places for a reason, and you're missing out on far more auditory cues than you realize because your brain is good at moving sensory information into the background when it doesn't deem it as important. Let your brain do its job, it's not that hard to listen to the podcast over your car's BT/AUX connection.

I assume he meant as a passenger.

In the car sounds like it might cause problems. There is important information in sound and when you wear noise canceling headphones you are actively making yourself deaf, which classes as a disability that would normally require some extra training before you'd get your license, and that is with a person who is already trained to be more aware of other cues.

They don't block 100% of sounds, far from it. They block rhythmical noises. So if a piece of metal would come off and scrape the road surface - I wouldn't hear it. But police sirens would be audible.

There are luxury cars than come with Bose's ANC built-in. They'd have the same problem if there was one.

Finally, I never use it in a city, just out on a long drives, where road surface is more ruff and listening a podcast via car system is more difficult than useful.

Deaf people don't need extra training before getting their license in most countries.

This also applies to the radio. I typically have my radio cranked up. Any time I turn it off, I'm astonished at the noises my car is making. It always occurs to me that I would probably notice mechanical problems earlier if I was used to just listening to the car so I could detect changes in what it sounds like. Then I say, "screw that" and crank the tunes back up.

This sounds like the beginning of a Dr Seuss

sleeping with them - I broke 5 pairs sleeping with them (well, QC20). I now use $5 earbuds from the local dollar store which are much less of a headache to replace.

Yeah I can't sleep on my sides with them.

Well, I sort of can if I find this odd position where I push them into pillow, but the foam pads did get permanently compressed a bit. Easy to change tho.

How did they fail for you? I had one QC25 fail just a month after warranty expired, but Bose replaced them for free - quite a common case of one side getting quieter/crackling when rotating them. QC35 seem to be build even more seriously (thicker band).

the earbud split along the seam. the moment there's a hairline fracture, the air comes whooshing in and there's an ear-splitting whistle. (again, QC20)

787’s pressure and air quality is what makes huge difference from every other aircraft out there.

Also, I can’t imagine flying without QC’s anymore ;)

Though in economy, I still find the 380 more pleasant, as it's so spacious and calm.

(Yeah, QC's are a must :)

QC25s are great at reducing noise, but it’s not just noise that’s the issue! I find that older planes have more more vibration in cabin and that’s not something that noise cancelling headphones can help with.

I found the Bose headphones mediocre in most regards, so I switched back to my Shure 315's. The foam earbud is enough to keep the airplane noise out, and the sound quality is awesome.

Anything on BA is unpleasant though.

First class on the United 747 was a fairly pleasant experience. You could tell it was an old plane, but the seat comfort was amazing and the view (in rows 1/2) was even better. And also the quietest flight I've experienced (except for takeoff/landing since you're right over the nosewheel). Slightly small toilets for first class, but other than that an overall great experience.

The 787 and 777 suffer from airlines using terrible seats in economy, which the A330/340/350/380 generally don't suffer from, but if you're flying premium economy or better the A350/787 are equally good, and the other aircraft aren't far behind.

I've flown on 737s for years & recently flew on a couple 10 hour flights on a 787, and mostly I like those planes well enough. My most miserable flying experience was on a couple 14 hour flights on a 747. I think short haul flights on a 737 never bother because they are short. The 787 flights were nice because the plane was new, and the person in front of me didn't recline their seat into my space. Maybe I just don't like long haul flights on old & crowded planes, which the 747 most certainly was.

Fly on one of the new 747-8i planes (I think only Lufthansa and Korean fly them). They are incredible. Quiet, comfortable, modern. It's a shame that nobody is buying them.

Came here to say the same thing. I have travelled on BA 747s and didn't enjoy the experience (which was a disappointment to me, as I had fond memories of flying on the 747 as an early teen). The Lufthansa 747-8 stood in stark contrast, and was a lovely plane to fly on.

The noise is partly determined by the airframe but the size and design of the lavatories is not. And for most people, the size and shape of the seats are overwhelmingly the most important factor affecting comfort. And like the lavatories, seat design is set by the airlines, not the airplane model.

The BA Club World (business class) upstairs in the 747 is pretty decent though. It’s not “luxurious“ compared to the standards of the Middle Eastern carriers, but it’s a fairly quite and intimate space, traveling there makes crossing the Atlantic an almost relaxing experience.

A380 sales are also way down. Airlines just don't want giant planes anymore.

I agree. When I fly Qantas A380 to LAX and then their 747 on to JFK, the difference is striking. The engine noise and cabin pressure alone were painful and more uncomfortable on that 4.5 hour flight than my 13 hour flight on the A380.

Is the cabin pressure different from A380 to 747? I wouldn't expect so.

Yes, the A380 has the same ~6,000 ft equivalent cabin pressure as the 787, compared to older jetliners that maintain ~8,000 ft.

interestingly the A380 dont seams to be flying with any american airline either(according to airbus http://www.airbus.com/aircraft/passenger-aircraft/a380-famil...).

And looking at the published customer lists for the 777 and 787 the list is dominated by non US based airlines. Particularly Asia seams to be emerging as the dominant market for air travel.

The A380 is hardly flown by anyone, never mind US carriers. Airbus is likely going to end production if they can't land another large order in the next year or two. It's an amazing aircraft that just doesn't fit the modern market. Airbus read the preexisting market trends correctly when deciding to build the A380, hub airports were becoming incredibly crowded and increasing the passengers per plane seemed to be the obvious solution at the time. However, they didn't foresee the market reacting to overcrowding by paying a premium to fly out of smaller, more local airports.

My local airport is a perfect example of this. It has gone from hosting just single digit numbers of regularly scheduled flights a day, with all of them being ~20-30 minute connector flights to nearby hubs on regional jets, to hosting well over a dozen 737-sized flights each day. All of that has happened in just ~15 years and it's partially down to the growth of my area but also how dissatisfied passengers were with driving 90-120 minutes to the 2 nearby, overcrowded, oft delayed hubs. I held off from committing to using my local airport up until this year as the price difference was $200 or more, but demand has risen to the point that the difference has fallen to around $100. The convenience alone is a winner but the savings in parking alone make up a third of the difference even if I park at the airport instead of taking an uber.

Article: https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/01/15/the-airbus-a380-is...

I found the 787 a horrible experience. I’m not a broad person, but I found the seats uncomfortably narrow.

Typically, seating is outfitted by the airline not the plane.

This is technically true, but in practice planes are designed for or or two seating configurations. For example you're always going to have wider seats in an A320 than a 737 because no airline is going to configure their 737s 5-across.

To the best of my knowledge, no airline has configured 787 economy anything other that 9 across. There's not actually a direct comparison to Airbus, the A330 is slightly narrower but is usually configured 8 across, whereas the A350 is slightly wider and is also usually configured 9 across.

So as a general rule, and subject to exceptions such as the proposed 11-across A380, Airbuses will have wider seats in economy than Boeings.

But the seat width is determined by the seating configuration and the plane is designed so that one or two particular seating configurations will work well. (Although it matters less for widebodies where there's enough wiggle room to say "this plane will fit 8 reasonable economy seats or 9 ridiculously narrow ones".)

Nope, airlines decide on the width too. The entire internal layout is up to the airline including the lavatory design.

747 has both 9 and 10 seat wide configuration.

That's why I made an exception for widebodies, although I accept that "making an exception for widebodies" more or less undermines my point.

But I claim that, for example, you can't realistically have a 737 layout that isn't 6 seats wide in coach — and that means the width of your coach seats will be whatever width fits 6 seats plus one gangway.

You can and they did.

Air India and KLM operated 737s with 5 seat config in economy (flew in them) up till last decade.

Have you been on BA’s 777? I find it little better than the 747. IMO, BA’s entire transan fleet is cramped and uncomfortable. AA’s (business) seats are a league ahead.

What (if anything) is the price difference between the two?

Absolutely agreed. BA's 777s are quite unpleasant, especially the older ones.

"The greatest number of passengers ever carried by a commercial airliner is 1,088, by an El Al Boeing 747 during Operation Solomon, which involved the evacuation of Ethiopian Jews from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and started on 24 May 1991."


When it took off, it was only 1086.

I had to skim the article to make sure you were not kidding. In retrospect, this is not so unusual - this was a rescue operation, so regular no-flying constraints did not apply. And normally, ~4% of women are pregnant, so EV for number of pregnant and ready to give birth women is 10860.04(percentarge pregnant)0.5(percentage of women)/9(only 9-month pregnant are ready to give birth) ~= 2.41. What surprising is that they gave birth during the flight, and not on any other day of the month. TRansition from danger to relative safety, I guess?

A rescue operation probably prioritized "women and children first" so I'd assume there's a higher likelihood of pregnant women in flight, therefore higher likelihood of births.

Yes, so if time of birth is uniformly random (haha) across the final month, then, assuming the flight took, say, half a day, you'd still have to multiply by 0.5/30, so have only ~0.05 expected child births. Still surprising, in other words. Good chance pregnant women were prioritised.

It was also probably a stressful and frightening flight. A lot of people believe that this can increase the chances that a woman will go into labor [1], although a quick round of Googling didn't turn up anything convincing on whether or not that is true or just a myth.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyRrz9Soutw

I feel fairly comfortable saying that in a group of Ethiopians in 1991, probably more than 4% are pregnant. For comparison, I've read that 10% of Syrian women in the refugee camps were pregnant at any given time. Doing the math (with world bank stats):

Ethiopia fertility 1991: 7.2

Ethiopia female life expectancy 1991: 49

Total pregnancy time: 7.2 * 0.75 years = 5.4 years

Lifespan proportion spent pregnant: 5.4 / 49 = 11%

Maybe they evacuated a maternity unit.

500 women in age give ~10 birth/year. Probability of birth in a given day is therefore 100 * (1 - (364 / 365.0) ^ 10) ~ 3%

and/or change in atmospheric pressure?

This was part of "Operation Solomon". If the Wikipedia article is to be believed, there were actually 1,122 passengers on board.


Either way, an impressive number!

Another way to get aboard one is to join Iron Maiden:


Somewhat famously, Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson is an Airline Transport Pilot with a type rating in the 747, enabling him to fly his band's own plane.

I watched an interview with him and apparently the reason was it worked out cheaper!

He's a total workaholic to be sure.

I can't imagine flying a 747 for 10-12 hours (from the UK to Brazil), getting off, doing a 3 hour concert, then getting back on the plane and flying to your next gig. Even with a day or two off, that's an insanely hard schedule.

Props to him though, like you said, he claims the band saved a ton of money doing it that way.

> Even with a day or two off, that's an insanely hard schedule.

...not to mention borderline illegal. Yes on long haul flights the pilots can and do sleep, but God hope nothing ever happens.

That's why they had other pilots. Dickinson was flying the plane only if the schedule was loose enough.

I'm wondering whether he could fly the plane with a PPL under FAR part 91, general aviation? Then he wouldn't be subject to airline rest restrictions.

Pretty sure there is a weight limit for PPL? At least I think there is here in Australia.

If memory serves me correctly, I think PPL allows you to fly aircraft up to 5700Kg MTOW. Even one of the 747 engines might bust that limit. :)

From what I recall above a certain MTOW a type rating is required. So, certainly you need multi-engine category & class, the complex, high-performance, and pressurised-cabin endorsement, and a type rating, and then you could fly your 747, but only VFR :)

Here some related discussion:



I would love to be a fly on the wall of that first class lounge. :)

Given the age of the band, I'm not sure it's so raucous anymore

Up the irons, Earthdogs!

Given that the A380 seems to be doing so poorly, what has taken over in the big jumbo market? Or is it just that the big jumbo market is ceasing to exist altogether?

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 can both seat up to ~350 passengers, which is not hugely different from the 350-450 on a longhaul 747, but is much more efficient since they're twin-engine instead of quad. (And yes, you can cram in well over 500 pax into a 747 if you use an tight economy-only config, but few airlines do.)

The overall trend in aviation is point-to-point routes and frequent flights on smaller planes. Just today it was announced that Sydney-Melbourne is now the world's second busiest air route, even though it's almost entirely served by "small" 737/A320s: https://www.ausbt.com.au/sydney-melbourne-is-now-the-world-s...

There are still A380s flying, but they only make sense on those fairly rare routes where you've got massive volume and tight slot restrictions. London-Singapore/Dubai-Sydney works, not a whole lot of other routes do.

London-Singapore/Dubai-Sydney works, not a whole lot of other routes do

It's notable that Qantas, which still operates the 747 as well as the A380 on its Australia-London routes (with layovers in SE Asia or the Middle East) has just started using the Dreamliner to operate its first ever non-stop Australia-London flight, departing from Perth (Australia's Western-most major city) [1].

It's conceivable that over time, Qantas could retire all its 747s and A380s and fly all its London passengers from Perth on the Dreamliner, using its many 737s and A320s for connections to/from from the rest of Australia.

[1] https://dreamliner.qantas.com/article/qantas-to-fly-non-stop...

Is there a possibility of improvements to the 787 that would get it from London to Sydney/Melbourne non-stop? Or is that route off the table until the next generation?

There's speculation that the 797 will be able to do this.

Also, are there aircraft capable doing Auckland-Istanbul?

Emirates/Qatar is a good hub, but not ideal for me.

I can't see either Air NZ or Turkish doing that. Air NZ already has a partnership with Singapore/Cathay so I'd imagine they'd continue to feed into SIN/HKG. Unless they form a partnership with Turkish which I also can't see happening even though they're both in Star Alliance. What's the downside of Qatar's hub? I'll be flying QR AKL-DOH-MAN then PRG-DOH-AKL this year so I'm interested to hear your experiences of QR via DOH.

> What's the downside of Qatar's hub?

No flights to Vilnius nor Riga. The best I can do is Warsaw/Copenhagen, then Palanga, which is sort of more convenient, but more expensive.

Also, I haven't been to Istanbul, but it must be way more interesting than Doha :)

That’s 10,600nmi on a great circle route. Most current and upcoming long range aircraft are around 1000nmi short of that.

(http://www.gcmap.com/ is a good site to find the distance of great circle routes)

They're getting close. Qantas is doing Perth to London on a 787-9 starting in March.

Asian air traffic is not increasing fast enough to save A380, Singapore Airlines (24), Korean Air (10) and China Southern Airlines (5) = 39 planes operating or ordered is not enough.

One thing that cripples A380 adoption is its size. Airports and airfields before A380 were not designed to handle plane of that size and weight. Expensive changes for regular routes may be needed and new airports are not build very often.

Interestingly A380 is relatively pavement-friendly aircraft because it's wide multi axis landing gears limit the maximum strain amplitude. Alas, landing fees are paid by weight, so A380 can't benefit from that.

Building new airports (or expanding them) seems to be a lot like building new nuclear power plants. Ridiculously expensive, plagued by endless delays and more political than anyone is prepared for. The Berlin Brandenburg Airport is a wonderful example of that: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/the-crazy-saga-of-ber...

> The Berlin Brandenburg Airport is a wonderful example of that

BER has always been a program to transfer as much cash as possible into the private sector. The profit the building companies siphoned off (and will keep siphoning off!) is enormous.

Unfortunately the city of Berlin has had to slash staff numbers in the last decades, so there is no in-house expertise to oversee that project... and external consultants don't have any incentive to actually do their job so the client has a benefit. They will want to drag out the BER build as long as possible, same as the building contractors.

I don't know, Moscow upgraded its 3 airports in the last 10-15 years as well as opened a new one. You would imagine that everything left over from Soviet times needed a massive overhaul.

Maybe the difference is whether you really need an airport, or when it is second to having a big public project to sink costs into?

  The overall trend in aviation is point-to-point routes and 
  frequent flights on smaller planes.
Somebody tell Delta. I'm sick of having to connect through Atlanta.

You don't find scrambling from concourse to concourse on our crowded plane train charming?

Kidding, of course, but when you do live in the hub city it does make it much easier to get a direct flight to almost any destination.

The inter-terminal walk is actively enjoyable and de-stressing, particularly between A and B, and I don't understand why people don't default to walking instead of taking the plane train.

Yeah the greenery they added to the A-B walkway is downright cool. I was half excited to do the terminal hop last time I flew through ATL.

I do anything I can to avoid connecting through. Delta Using it as a test bed makes it very uncomfortable. Plastic seats, annoying boarding process people can’t seem to figure out, exposed ceiling (seriously it’s been well over a hear now), etc. I mean it’s not as bad as their new terminals at LAX but wow I have to rank it as one of my least favorite airports. I think I’m just spoiled by how nice PDX is.

It's a love-hate relationship. I live in Detroit, Delta's 2nd largest hub by number of flights. It feels like I can fly direct to almost anywhere in the country.

I know this may sound trite, but are you forced to fly Delta for work or is there a destination that only they travel to? I avoid Delta for this reason.

For flights out of Melbourne (Florida), the choices are Delta or American (and all the AA flights connect through Charlotte). I just happen to like Delta slightly better.

Depending on where I'm going, if I can find a non-stop flight from Orlando, I'll drive to the Orlando airport. Surprisingly, that doesn't happen very often.

You're not wrong. But Hartsfield-Jackson is an amazing machine.

> The overall trend in aviation is point-to-point routes and frequent flights on smaller planes. Just today it was announced that Sydney-Melbourne is now the world's second busiest air route, even though it's almost entirely served by "small" 737/A320s:

This is only true regionally or domestically. The hub and spoke model is more alive than ever on international routes. There are more direct routes today, but that is a consequence of having more hubs and more airlines, not because the airlines have figured out some advantage in point to point routes.

For the long range widebody market, the largest planes don't save you much on fuel economy, even running full. A common saying in the industry is that it takes a lot of fuel to fly a lot of fuel; with fuel economy there are diminishing returns to aircraft size. Given they weren't saving much on fuel, the A380 and 747 only made sense at megahubs, because it reduced demand for landing and departure time slots. But the airlines responded to that problem in a different way: they increased the number of their hubs. This made them more flexible by not tying them into very expensive fleet decisions with new and unproven aircraft with hard staffing and infrastructural investments to go along with them, and it gives the advantage of having more direct routes.

"not because the airlines have figured out some advantage in point to point routes."

Southwest has figured out the advantage. People want point to point and the profits and continued expansion of Southwest will hopefully clue the other airlines onto that fact. I fear the day when Southwest no longer has any competition and decides to convert over to a hub system to save on costs. Using current accounting methods, airlines see huge advantages in using a hub system. If they had to charge all the wasted time the hub system costs its passengers, they might see why Southwest keeps getting bigger and bigger. When looking to fly, I always sort for non-stops only and consider that as the price to fly to my destination (luckily I live in the Bay Area that has airport competition). Only when no non-stop flights exist, do I consider multiple stop flights.

As I said, that is only true regionally or domestically. Even then, Southwest has minihubs in order to connect the routes that don't have enough volume to justify direct flights. You can see this yourself: if you track their flight numbers, each "flight" is typically 3 to 4 legs, at least one of which is a southwest hub. For example, Seattle's only point to point route on Southwest is to San Jose where Seattle has a lot of cultural and business connections due to the tech industry. Anywhere else from Seattle is either direct because Southwest happens to operate a hub there, or it transfers through a hub.

Unique to southwest (I'd say it's a strategic advantage, but only viable regionally) is the use of focus cities like Sacramento. These operate essentially as hubs, but aren't called hubs because they don't have maintenance operations there. Southwest's route planning model within regions is quite unique, and you can see how it works by tracking a flight number. Almost all of their regional flights are 3 leg flights: (Spoke -> Hub -> Focus City -> Spoke) or (Spoke -> Focus City -> Hub -> Spoke). This allows them to have lots of hubs (which allows for a lot of direct flights), while still allowing nearly all of their fleet to have access to a hub's maintenance operations, which is probably the most expensive part of operating a hub. This gives the popular illusion of having an extensive point to point network, but in reality nearly all flights connect to a hub or pseudo hub.

There is absolutely no doubt that people prefer direct flights. Airlines running hubs have basically resigned themselves to the fact that if southwest opens a direct route between any of their non-hub cities, they've lost almost all of their non-frequent-flier customers on that specific city pairing to Southwest. That means that direct flights only make sense if there is enough volume on the specific corridor, and that only ever happens regionally, because that is where all the cultural and business connections are.

So a city is a hub when the airline does maintenance at that location? How often does an airplane require maintenance? Then you talk about minihubs, pseudo hubs, and Focus Cities. What does point to point mean for someone in the business? Seems to me with all of this contorted vocab to keep Southwest in the hub system it might mean it really is a different type of airline. Not hub based but something else (as you say it is not a point to point airline)?

Maybe the word I should use is non-stop for the type of flight that people want. "point to point" seems to have some technical meaning that I don't grok. What makes the Seattle to San Jose a point to point route but other Seattle flights by Southwest not point to point?

I'll link to a separate comment I made that clarifies the meaning.


Airlines need small amounts of maintenance daily, but occasionally intense maintenance on short notice. When you have to use 3rd party maintenance facilities, it is extremely expensive. Most airlines run their own maintenance facilities at hubs because most of their planes pass through hubs, and a huge expense with maintaining a hub is running a maintenance operation.

Southwest's strategy maintains focus cities (which I've used interchangably with minihub or pseudo hub), which operates as a hub from the passenger's perspective, but does not include maintenance facilities. This works out well for them because they operate short haul multi-leg flights on routes that ensure they always have a maintenance facility available to them once per day. So a three leg flight will start at a spoke city, have one intermediate stop at an full hub with maintenance operations, and one stop at a minihub or focus city, before ending at a spoke city. By only having maintenance facilities at half their "hubs", they can have many hubs at a fraction of the cost.

Once you get out of the regional business, those multi-leg flight paths no longer make as much sense, because spoke->hub->hub->spoke flight times with a return trip will exceed pilot's allowable operating hours, requiring you to pay pilots to live in two locations instead of one. Southwest has ripped up the regional market with this strategy, but it absolutely doesn't work for anything outside of the regional market.

What fraction of cities in the US that Southwest services would you call a hub or minihub? Or the fraction of flights that go to spokes? By playing around with this map[1] I would say that southwest has 90-95% of flights going hub to (mini)hub. While delta is very different[2]. Looks like the hub model lets an airline service many smaller cities while the Southwest model services only larger cities but makes most of them a (mini)hub. If I live in North Dakota and can afford to fly, I sure would want the hub system to exist, but for a large number of mid sized cities the Southwest model works much better.

[1]https://www.southwest.com/flight/routemap_dyn.html [2]http://dl.fltmaps.com/en

You can see their full hubs and focus cities on their wikipedia page. And it isn't necessarily due to being large or small. Some of their hubs are in large cities and some are in small cities. My metro area is quite large (Seattle), but it is only a spoke city, not a hub or a minihub.

Operating bases (full hub)

    Las Vegas
    Phoenix–Sky Harbor
Focus cities (mini hub)

    Fort Lauderdale
    Los Angeles
    San Diego
    San José (CA)
    St. Louis

Arguing about the definition of words can be sort of silly but I guess the last thing I'll say here is that, from a travelers perspective, Southwest, with its 19 hubs/minihubs in the US and scheduling philosophy, many cities that are not hubs look like hubs to the traveler. Take ABQ. A non-hub city for Southwest and Delta. In Southwest's system ABQ connects directly with 15 other cities. For Delta only 4(this could be a cherry pick, but it was the first one I looked at). Southwest focuses on the middle class and small business owners (no first class seating, no expensive flights to Aspen, Jackson Hole, or Sun Valley, no meals, everyone can check bags for free without being on a frequent flyer list, no fees for changing flights, etc) while all the others seem to look to make money on the first class seats and fill the rest as an after thought.

Being in the first group, I like Southwest's system better and wish another airline could try the same system for competition. Jet Blue seemed to start out that way but I have not flown them in years. A quick check of their site it seems that have baggage fees and change fees and look pretty hub centered.

By that definition United maintains hubs in Amarillo, Tampa and Hong Kong.

Lots of airlines are no longer performing heavy maintenance at their hubs.

None of those are hubs, they're spokes.

There's two components that make an airport into a hub:

1) Transfer operations. This means flight schedules are almost invariably determined by the hub airport, because they time arrivals and departures to happen in waves, which minimize the amount of time that passengers have to wait for connections. This means that you'll have a lot of staff to handle the peak load of a transfer wave, while that staff might be relatively idle at other times.

2) Maintenance operations: this means doing routine maintenance during layover, as well as swapping out planes for intense maintenance. This is why your hub layover doesn't have a pre-determined terminal for your second leg flight...it can and regularly will change if a plane needs to be swapped out for maintenance.

A spoke city will have neither transfer operations nor maintenance operations. A minihub might have transfer operations but not maintenance operations (I've explained these are only viable regionally in other comments). But a full hub will have both.

Lets not forget the twin engine 777, which carries more passengers than a 787 and has taken over on long hauls. It basically started the end for the 747 in passenger service.

I’ve been on an all economy 380 between Guangzhou and Beijing. Fun plane.

From a safety point of view, I take a 747 or A380 any day or a (now defunct Trijet) to a twin engine 777 or A350. Guess were flying hours over the open sea (Atlantic) is safer because of redundancy, the more engines the more can go out and it still can land.

The 777 is way too crammed. The washrooms are on the side instead in the middle aka mini-washrooms (but with window). In general it feels like the first computer designed airframe, they forgot about the size of humans, it's made for short people. I take a 747 or even better A380 any day over the 777. I mean who seriously prefers to sit in a narrow long can for 12 hours, when you can choose a double decker A380 were you can stretch your legs, walk around and have big washrooms were you can stand even upright. And don't get me started on the entertainment system of the 777 - needs a serious upgrade.

The 757 will go out of service next, United still has some 757 from the 1980s - sure the seats are super comfortable because in the 1980s the were bigger and softer, but the airframe is old and the entertainment system was added as addon, meaning a computer box is below every other seat and gives the unlucky guy (who doesn't know about seatguru) little leg room.

Why is the very very odd 737 still going? It's older than the 747, I wonder when they finally design a new smaller airframe.

Airlines decide on their 777 interiors and entertainment centers, so your experience on a Delta 777 will be very different from an air Singapore one. The 777 was a huge advance in composites, which were continued in the 787. My gf at the time dad worked on the plane and was very proud of it.

The 737 has been updated many times and Boeing hasn’t seen the need to introduce a completely new narrow body. It is still very successful, so I guess they are right. In contrast, the 767 was dying and needed replacing by the 787, it couldn’t be updated.

The 747 is still in production and is very successful in freight and other applications. It isn’t going away anytime soon.

> and the entertainment system was added as addon, meaning a computer box is below every other seat and gives the unlucky guy (who doesn't know about seatguru) little leg room.

I've been on Dreamliners with entertainment boxes intruding on the legroom. That's 100% up to the implementation by the airline

Having 2 engines go out is such a rarity that it almost never happens. And when it does, it’s usually due to something that would have affected 3 or 4 as well.

ETOPS regulations also ensure (at least for the US) that if one engine does go out somewhere over the ocean, you’ll at least get to land somewhere.

For anyone wondering the longest ETOPS diversion was for a 777 which flew (and landed without incident) for 192 minutes on a single engine.


The end of the Cold War made direct two engine flights viable because (a) we could fly over Russia and (b) Russia was nice enough to open up a bunch of airports in the Far East (with money from western airlines) to comply with regulations.

Agreed that the 380 is still the most comfortable for pax (unless you crave lower cabin altitude), but the 777 safety record is stellar (only 6 hull losses with 1500 built: BA 38 with ice in the fuel lines, EgyptAir 667 fire on the ground, Asiana 214 in SFO, MH 370, MH 17 (rocket), and the Emirates 521 bounce in Dubai). Looks like a pretty sound design to me.

4 engine plans lose an engine almost twice as often as twin engine planes do.

Is the point-to-point model more fuel-efficient than the hub model from a global rather than local standpoint? I get that it's more fuel-efficient per-flight but I wonder if they end up compensating with more flights or something. (I'm ignoring costs here; I'm just wondering what is the most green approach.)

The small planes have roughly the same fuel consumption per passenger per mile as the large ones these days (AIUI the disadvantage of more engines balances the advantage of a larger plane. Maybe a hypothetical "twin-engine A380" could be more fuel-efficient - I'm not sure why that hasn't been attempted). So assuming equal loadings on all flights, point-to-point would be more fuel-efficient than a hub model (since passengers travel further in the hub model). Obviously if point-to-point leads to planes flying half-empty then at some point that becomes a bigger effect.

To add to this analysis: the hub model, by definition, add at least one, and possibly two flights. It's not just an increase in distant, but all the fuel inefficiency of starting, landing, idling on the ground etc.

An A380 has about 1,400 kN available from its four engines. A twin engine A380 would need two engines developing at least 650-700 kN just to get off the ground. For reference, the GE9X being developed for the 777X develops 470 kN.

To make things more complex, there are regulations that require an aircraft to be able to continue takeoff should one engine fail. To match the thrust available of an A380 on 3 engines would require nearly 1000 kN of thrust from a single engine, way beyond current commercial jet engine technology.

Rolls Royce had to design special extra large engines for the A380. Because of the large diameter of the fan they had to use clever blade geometry to overcome problems with supersonic airflow at the ends of the fan blades. So I'm guessing that two even larger engines would be tricky.

A380's engines are the same size as the early-90s 777 engines, and smaller than both the GE90 and the new GE9X. They didn't have to do anything tricky for them.

You may be thinking of the new Pratt & Whitney PW1000G, which will be on the A320neo, which has a geared turbofan for that reason.

It all depends on the ability to fill your plane with passengers. Full planes means high fuel efficiency and low costs.

It is much easier to get full planes with high frequency departures on a hub model than it is on a point to point model. Generally people don't like connections, so their propensity to buy is much lower if there is a competing direct flight available. There is a balance to be made, but generally speaking a point to point route is only more efficient if the passenger volume is extremely high and very predictable.

A lot of people, though, are confusing the recent availability of new international direct flights with a move towards a point to point model. This is completely false. The increase in "direct" flights has to do with the expansion of hubs and airlines. For example, if you go to the SeaTac airport [0] has a higher number of direct international routes than it ever has, but every single one of them has a hub for that airline at the origin or the destination. You have more direct flights not because the airlines are operating point to point routes, but because you have more hubs and more airlines.

Only regionally has point to point made more traction, but that is an irrelevant discussion when talking about the widebody market.

[0] http://www.portseattle.org/Sea-Tac/Flights-Airlines/Route-Ma...

>A lot of people, though, are confusing the recent availability of new international direct flights with a move towards a point to point model. This is completely false. The increase in "direct" flights has to do with the expansion of hubs and airlines.

I think that's an example of using a absolutist definition of "point-to-point" instead of a relative definition.

When airline industry analysts talk about 787 servicing more point-to-point routes, the "point-to-point" is relative to avoiding the mega hubs with 4-engine jumbo planes.

Yes, there can be a so-called "point-to-point" at a 2nd-tier airport flying to another 2nd-tier airport (that also has "hub&spoke" like attributes) which makes it fail the absolutist definition of "point-to-point". We can concede that more restrictive definition and yet still simultaneously understand what the industry is talking about when they mention "point-to-point". The expansion of 2nd-tier hubs at budget airlines is still point-to-point compared to superhubs like New York JFK, London LHR, Paris CDG, etc.

It does matter though. Let's take the example from your other post: Oslo to Orlando.

Demand from Orlando to Oslo and vice versa would never have been enough to be viable if Oslo wasn't a hub connecting dozens of european cities to dozens of american cities. The demand of Orlando residents wanting to see Oslo and Oslo residents wanting to see Orlando is only a tiny fraction of what actually flies on that route.

To the customer, it doesn't matter...you have more direct routes. To the airline and fleet planners, it absolutely matters. Because they have to predict the demand to fly on those routes and they have to plan the volumes and connection timings at their hubs. The ETOPS rule, while not insiginificant, isn't as significant as you claim. The difficulty in filling a 747 isn't much different from a 787, and in no way did the prior rule force a 3 span dual megahub route instead of a direct flight in order to fill a plane with 25% more passengers.

>Oslo wasn't a hub connecting dozens of european cities

You're explaining more facts which we can all agree on. Yes Oslo can also act as a mini "hub".

My comment was about language and the evolution of how "point-to-point" is used to also describe 2nd-tier "hub" traffic. For some reason, "point-to-point" gained currency to also describe traffic outside of superhubs even if the majority of passengers are not native residents of the 2nd-tier airports. In this way, it can be a misleading term based on actual passenger demographics but it's the term that's already in wide use.

To add to the relativism, to a rich guy with his own jet or fractional ownership NetJets, none of the commercial airlines are actually "point-to-point" because they don't fly to the tiny executive airport that's 2 miles from his office.

So let's say we banish "point-to-point" and rewrite A380 headlines as "Airbus A380 lost because of the rise of non-superhub to non-superhub traffic". Does that materially change anything about the incorrect market assumptions that Airbus made?

Yeah, the language is pretty overloaded from the layman's perspective. In the airline industry (which I'm not a part of, but I have significant professional connections with operations researchers which do route planning for the airline industry), they distinguish between a point-to-point route and a direct route.

Direct means you fulfill the customer's desire with one flight, irrespective of whether there is a hub at the origin or destination, although most are to or from a hub. That is why airlines advertise direct routes. Despite their marketing as direct routes, typically fewer than 10% of passengers on that flight will share the same origin and destination.

Point to point means a route that doesn't connect between a hub and a spoke, neither of which has full scale maintenance operations and significant staffing for that airline. It is also expected that 100% of passengers on the flight are coming from the same origin and to the same destination.

All point-to-point routes are direct routes, but not vice versa. For example, when I fly from Seattle to San Jose on southwest, I'm flying on a direct route, but I'm also flying a point to point route, because neither Seattle or San Jose are hubs for Southwest. It actually takes a lot of volume for an actual point to point route to make sense, and in this case it does because of the significant business ties between Silicon Valley and Seattle. But when I fly Seattle to Oakland, it is only a direct route, because Oakland happens to be a hub.

> So let's [...] rewrite A380 headlines as "Airbus A380 lost because of the rise of non-superhub to non-superhub traffic". Does that materially change anything about the incorrect market assumptions that Airbus made?

In the sense of the magnitude of how bad that decision was, it matters: it made it doubly bad for airbus. Because even between superhubs, they're now running A350's, 777s, and 787s.

The A380 only made sense at superhubs because of constrained takeoff and landing slots. Those slots have a non-linear value: an airpoint at 99% capacity may charge 10x more for a takeoff or landing slot than an airport at 95% capacity. So if I'm running American Airlines between JFK and Heathrow, an A380 may make sense, but if 10% of the competing airline volume on that route switches to LaGuardia and/or Gatwick, it no longer makes sense for me to run an A380...even though my network map hasn't changed at all. So airbus even lost out even on the airlines that never changed with the times.

Depends on many factors, many of them indirect.

For me to fly to my in-laws it is two flights, each at $120/person (prices change all the time and are never the same for each leg, but lets use these numbers). If I could get a direct flight for $150/person I'd be more likely to go, both because it is cheaper and because it avoids switching planes. Thus it might be less fuel-efficient on a global scale because of the greater number of people/flights.

Direct flights can take more direct routes, which uses less fuel because people are going less distance. Direct flights also eliminate a lot of fuel infrastructure at the hubs - you don't need moving sidewalks or trams if the airport is smaller. These are fuel savings.

I suspect that take-off use a lot of fuel, but I don't know how jet engines work well enough to know if this obvious savings is significant or not.

Are twins inherently more efficient per pax than quads? Wouldn't a quad plane just run at a lower thrust level per engine? Given that fan sizes and core temperatures are rammed up against difficult limits, I would've thought that quads could give a better bypass ratio (and hence efficiency) by reducing the core engine size and thrust requirement.

Or do you mean operational efficiency...fewer parts to maintain, engineers, simpler plumbing etc? Probably less disturbance on the wing flow with 2 engines as well.

> Just today it was announced that Sydney-Melbourne is now the world's second busiest air route,

And wow, the most hilariously-expensive business class fares it seems: USD $1,288 return (even including a Sat night stay) with Qantas. It's a 1hr25min flight. Luckily Virgin looks to be providing some tough competition...at $1,143.

SYD-SCL and SYD-PER-JNB are routes where Qantas needs a 4-engined plane because they are so far outside the ETOPS limits. But those are pretty extreme exceptions.

Is that still the case with newer ETOPS limits, e.g. ETOPS-370?

> Sydney-Melbourne is now the world's second busiest air route

Interesting, with just about 900km between both cities they seem the perfect candidates for a highspeed rail link instead.

They're working on. It's been under 'serious' discussion since the 80's. There are currently vague plans being discussed that would lead to a high speed rail link being in place as early as 2032, but most people consider that pretty optimistic.

It's also interesting because Australia only has 25M people. All the others in the top 10 [1] are in countries with much larger populations.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_busiest_passenger_air_...

Melbourne and Sydney are both cities of over 4 million people though.

I think it might be due to the fact that Sydney are Melbourne are both similar sized, so it's 50/50 where a company should set up their office, so for in-person meetings, there's a lot of flying to and from required.

Unfortunately the problem is low population density.

Political parties are constantly proposing to build a fast rail link between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

But at this stage the populations of the cities are just too low to make it economically feasible.

Melbourne and Sydney are about 4M each, and Brisbane is 2M.

By comparison, the Northeastern United States [1] has a population of 55M, in a smaller geographic area. And Japan has a population of 130M in an area about half the size of Sydney's state of New South Wales.

I wish it could be done. It would be so much better to be able to board and disembark in the centre of town rather than having to drive/commute to and from airports. I'm hopeful that Hyperloop may be the answer, but we'll see.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeastern_United_States

So, the population density is too low to justify a rail link, but is high enough to support the second busiest air route in the world?

Isn't the number of people travelling between the cities the thing that actually matters?

Isn't the number of people travelling between the cities the thing that actually matters?

Not if you have lay new tracks, then that cost will dwarf all other considerations. A lot of the land between Melbourne and Sydney is quite valuable as well making it even more expensive. Plus the fact that there already are fully functional and reasonably priced air routes makes it much harder for high speed rail to charge a premium, making the profit pr. passenger quite slim.

Had they started building the high speed rail line in 1984, before the land prices started to sky rocket and before low cost airlines took of, then it might have worked out very well. Starting to build it today is an entirely different prospect.

I gather the very reason it's the second-busiest air route in the world is that it's just far enough below the margin at which it becomes economically feasible to build fast rail (for now).

As a comparison, London and Paris, which are of comparable proximity and economic importance to one-another, have much bigger populations, and thus fast rail is justifiable, so the two cities don't rank highly on the busiest-air-routes list.

Those airports already exist for other flights, and you don't need to negotiate track and land space for the path between cities. So I could see a heavily trafficked air route being (1) more logistically expedient (2) politically viable

Maybe not. Given Australia's distance from other populated countries (okay, the US), the added distance to travel to Melbourne on a single flight may be non-trivial. Additionally, the amount of travel on a given day to Australia might not be enough for an airline to dedicate large 747 or A380 routes to multiple airports; people flying 16 hours over the Pacific might not expect a nonstop flight regardless. Hence, Sydney became a defacto hub for much of Australia's air travel. And once you're already paying one airline to get you there, you might as well take their connection to Melbourne, rather than pay another vendor, collect your baggage, find the train station, etc.

Just this past May I flew from SFO to MEL. My options on United were SFO-SYD-MEL or SFO-LAX-MEL. I actually preferred the Sydney connection because I reasoned a missed connection in Sydney wouldn't put me off my journey by much, but a missed connection at 9pm in LAX would ensure I'd lose at last half a day if not a whole day getting to Australia. Ultimately I went with the SFO-LAX-MEL route for 2 reasons; the Sydney option routed me on Qantas for the Australia "domestic" leg and I didn't get any miles for it, plus the LAX-MEL route was served by a 787 which I deemed preferable for its potential to reduce jet lag (jury's still out on that one).

The advent of smaller planes like the 787 serving MEL from, one would hope, an increasing number of US cities, might take stress off of SYD.

Distance is a factor, as distances get larger airplanes' speed advantage gets more and more important. High speed rail is 250km/h, while airplanes generally run 900km/h. Travel time is enough to ensure that even if the train is a lot cheaper (rail costs enough that this is unlikely) many people will fly.

High speed rail is very useful for medium distances, but has you get to long distances it doesn't really make sense.

Madrid to Barcelona was the busiest air route in the world until Spain finished the AVE. Now it's off the top 10.

Exactly my point: Madrid to Barcelona is a medium distance application where high speed rail makes sense (in a general sense - geography can be a confounding factor)

It really depends on what is between them, which doesn’t appear to be much.

As long as Australia is powered by coal, there's no point. The main benefit of high speed rail over air travel is that it's greener... and in Autralia, it isn't.

They already have a much faster air link built.

Comments that are ignorant on purpose are rarely impressive.

Meta comments about comments are best left to reddit.

Sounds like a big waste of money to lay and maintain all that track when airplanes already make that trip pretty easily.

The answers you have gotten so far are terrible. There is no discernible move to a "point to point" model in commercial aviation. That's a myth straight from Boeing's marketing department. Instead, the reason the 747 and A380 sales have suffered is that the entire aviation industry has suffered from the tripple whammy of 9/11, the Global Financial Meltdown and high fuel prices. Both p2p and trunk routes saw massive shrinkage in passenger numbers for a while and strong growth in recent years.

I.e. airlines couldn't even fill the flights they had, so they did not spend big money (that they didn't have either) on big airplanes. This has changed however. The 777, the newest version of which seats almost as many people as a 747 does, is selling very nicely. Since the A380 project is close to breaking even now and airlines have shown a willingness to discuss new sales, Airbus is almost ready to commit to a midlife upgrade. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a massive step up from just a few years ago.

The reason the 747 is the only big airliner that just no one is interested in buying anymore is that it is an incredibly old design that was kept alive by the fact that it was the biggest commercial airliner on the market. The moment the A380 was announced, 747 sales started to taper off. Once the latest embiggening of the 777 was announced, there was just no raison d'être for the 747 anymore.

Also, the claim that twin engine airliners are cheaper or more efficient than quads is a myth as well. The number of engines itself has nothing to do with it, because quads can generate the same amount of thrust with smaller engines than twins, making every engine cheaper. Upfront costs for airliners scale linearly with size (i.e. maximum take-off weight) and running costs (i.e. fuel and maintenance) scale linearly with thrust. Both are independent of the number of engines, though larger airplanes that require more thrust tend to have a larger number of engines.

> There is no discernible move to a "point to point" model in commercial aviation. That's a myth straight from Boeing's marketing department.

But one doesn't have to just take Boeing's word for it. One can see the trend in the actual real-world routes. For example, you have Norwegian Airlines recently offering direct nonstop service from Oslo Norway to Orlando Florida on the 787.[1] Both Oslo and Orlando would be considered 2nd-tier population cities and that lower demand point-to-point route is made possible by the newer smaller planes.

Before the ETOPS[2] rule changes, an airline had to use the 4-engine jumbo jets to get Norwegians in Europe to Disney World in America. To architect such a route, the airline would choose a prominent "gateway" city in Europe with a superhub such as London Heathrow LHR, or Paris France, or Frankfurt Germany. They then pick a gateway city in USA with a hub such as New York JFK or Atlanta Georgia. The route would then be something like Oslo-to-London-to-NewYork-to-Orlando. That type of hub-&-spoke route was what Airbus was counting on and it didn't happen. The Norwegian Airlines p2p route of Oslo-to-Orlando is a "lost sale" of an Airbus A380.

>suffered from the tripple whammy of 9/11,

But Airbus made their overly optimistic prediction of 1200 orders for the A380 in 2005 which was 4 years after 9/11 2001.

[1] https://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/blog/2015/03/norwegian-s...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ETOPS

   For example, you have Norwegian Airlines recently offering direct nonstop service from Oslo Norway to Orlando, Florida on the 787.
I'd consider Norwegian a bad example since they position themselves as an ultra low cost carrier. The economics there are somewhat different in that they don't usually offer connecting flights via one of their hubs. Ryanair just recently and very tentatively even began offering connecting flights, but it's not necessarily their business model, which is no frills direct connections.

As for major European hubs. Note that they are not necessarilly used by ULC carriers.

I don't know if this is still the case, but when you took Ryanair to Barcelona you wound up in Girona and Stockholm wasn't really Stockholm. Second (or third or fourth) tier airports sometimes offer very attractive conditions to airlines just to get passengers, which make the attractive to ULC carriers.

Isn't that just more evidence of the rise of point-to-point airlines? Ryanair mostly don't have hubs and Boeing is selling them massive orders of 737s. Same with AirAsia, which does have some focus cities (KUL) but can largely be considered point-to-point.

Now that long-haul LCCs are becoming a thing, they're buying up 787s, like Norweigian and AirAsiaX.

By not using hubs, they need more aircraft like the 787 and 737MAX.

Then there are all the mainland Chinese carriers who are effectively taking this strategy out of necessity. Chinese aviation authorities prohibit a given international city pair from being served by more than one Chinese airline, which is part of why we're seeing a lot of those airlines show up in second tier cities even if the route doesn't serve their own hub in China. E.g., XiamenAir serving Seattle-Shenzen and Hainan Airlines serving Chongqing-Rome.

The issue with this entire line of discussion is that growth in the number of p2p routes alone isn't what we should be looking at, but the market share of those routes compared to total numbers of passengers. When you look at the entire picture, you quickly see that the hub-2-hub trunk routes have also grown rapidly.

And when you look deeper, you can see that many trunk routes are more or less maxed out on flights. That's because many major airports can't handle more starts/landings or they don't grand more starting/landing slots to airlines to schedule new flights. The only way to grow these routes is through going to bigger planes.

tl;dr: There are more flights happening all over the place, but p2p routes' passenger numbers aren't outgrowing h2h routes' numbers.

> I'd consider Norwegian a bad example since they position themselves as an ultra low cost carrier. [...] European hubs [...] not necessarilly used by ULC carriers.

It's not necessary to start the analysis with "ultra low cost carrier" that doesn't use a hub.

Instead, we work backward from the "missing" 900 A380 orders that Airbus thought they'd get but didn't. (If Airbus predicted 1200 sales but only got 300 orders, they were way off on their assumptions.)

By flipping the cause & effect around, we can see the following:

1) The Boeing 787 makes it possible for a ULC like Norwegian Air to not have to partner with British Airways A380 to get their Norway customers from LHR London to JFK New York.

2) the Boeing 787 makes it possible for a ULC like Norwegian Airlines to offer p2p service themselves without buying hub slots

Whether British Airways doesn't buy an additional A380 because Norwegian Airlines isn't sending them any Oslo connecting passengers -- or -- Norwegian doesn't buy an A380 because they don't use hub slots in their ULC business model, the end result is the same: it's an unsold A380.

Okay I'll add a few more:

San Jose to Manchester

Oakland to Oslo

London to Calgary

I've definitely seen a trend of 787s making these routes possible. Dunno where the "point to point is marketing speak" comes from.

London <-> Calgary has been happening for at least 10 years, way before the 787s time.

I was under the impression that the route used to be very seasonal and is now year round because of the 787s.

That could be.

Westjet fly a 767-300 LGW-YYC.

> But one doesn't have to just take Boeing's word for it. One can see the trend in the actual real-world routes. For example, you have Norwegian Airlines recently offering direct nonstop service from Oslo Norway to Orlando Florida on the 787.[1] Both Oslo and Orlando would be considered 2nd-tier population cities and that lower demand point-to-point route is made possible by the newer smaller planes.

That wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that Oslo is Norwegien Airlines' hub, would it? Cause if so, that isn't a point to point route. That is a hub route.

And that's why the trend is illusory. No international airlines are running point to point. The availability of direct routes has to do with the increase in the number of airlines and the number of hubs. Check out Seatac's list of direct international routes. Every single route listed has either a hub destination or a hub origin for that airline. Every single one of them.


> That wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that Oslo is Norwegien Airlines' hub, would it?

No, Norwegian does not have a hub. Check out https://www.aftenposten.no/okonomi/i/b0pGl/Norwegian-apner-n... for a list of destinations served from the US, and it will include Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and more. And those are the larger cities, this summer they also fly direct from US to Belfast, Bergen, Dublin, Edinburgh and more, using the 737 MAX.

All of those non-seasonal destinations are hubs of Norwegian.


If every city they fly to is considered a "hub", then what differentiates a hub flight from a point to point flight?

I'll just link to two separate comments I made:



Southwest doesn't actually have a hub at every city they fly to. They just have a lot of hubs.

They do this by a regional strategy: Nearly every flight goes from a spoke to a hub or focus city (the distinction between the two is irrelevant to the passenger, but relevant to the airline), to another hub or focus city, then ends at a spoke. It's a strategy that has worked out well for them, as it gives them a huge direct flight network despite running what is essentially still a hub and spoke network, because focus cities don't have to have maintenance operations. It's a cool strategy, but only really works regionally because shorter flights mean that they can run multi-leg routes that stop at a full hub at some point. Because it only works regionally, it is completely irrelevant to the discussion in the widebody market.

No, the answers are pretty close to right.

Regarding route models: Airbus bet big on airlines wanting to run long-haul service between existing congested megahubs, and built the A380 for that purpose. Think of routes like Hong Kong to London (which BA serves with an A380). With the 787, Boeing went the other way and bet on airlines wanting to expand service from their hubs to secondary or tertiary destinations. Boeing seems to have come out ahead on that; the number of megahubs is limited, and the A380 required expensive infrastructure to support. And airlines do seem to like using the 787 to serve places that aren't alpha-tier world cities.

And the idea that more + smaller engines is as efficient is not accurate, either; modern jet engines gain their efficiency in large part from their bypass ratio, and for that bigger engines are better. The ability to certify high ETOPS numbers on twinjets, and the availability of larger, high-bypass-ratio engines, killed the trijet and is now killing the quadjet.

I've a question for you since you seem so knowledgeable on the subject.

From my understanding the Airbus A330 and - A340 are pretty much the same plane, with the exception that the 340 has 4 engines and the 330 2.

Assuming that the desing is pretty much the same (inlcuding capacity of the fuel tanks) why is the range of the 340 much farther then the one of the 330. This seems somehat counter intuitive so I was wondering.

Alas, I'm pretty sure that I'm somehow guilty of wrong think here. I just wonder why.

> Alas, I'm pretty sure that I'm somehow guilty of wrong think here. I just wonder why.

Not wrong, just too literal maybe.

These are design ranges, with a standard payload and standard fuel loading.

If you think about it, it makes sense: airplanes don't have a fixed range. Depending on how much payload and fuel you take along (at full payload, you probably can't fill your tanks to max capacity, or you'll exceed your max takeoff weight), you can get more or less far.

The extreme case, an empty plane with full tanks, would have tremendous range but would of course make no economic sense.

So they design airplanes for what they assume to be the sweet spot: certain routes with certain characteristics (say, long distance over water, traditionally needing more than two engines).

So the A330 was designed for routes which were accessible to pre-ETOPS twin-engine planes, which apparently tended to be shorter. Conversely the A340 was designed with a focus on over-water routes, which are apparently longer.


The things you can learn here are awesome.

My understanding of the key difference between the 330 and the 340 is the maximum take-off weight and you can see the extra landing gear on 340 models due to this. MTOW being higher on the 340 allows it to carry more fuel even with a full cargo load which is the critical factor in the extended range. The 330 could achieve the same range if fully loaded with fuel but it couldn't do it with full cargo.

I didn't consider the additional fuel, which the 340 is capable of carrying upon take-off.

Makes a lot of sense and thanks for the insight.

Reminds me of another dirty, little aviation secret:

An airline may bump you, despite the fact that the plane has empty seats. The reason, again, is take-off weight.

It's a lot more profitable to load an additional container than you. Even considering costs like compensation, hotel rooms and even a rebooking to a different airline.

The source for that is my sister, who worked ground handling for the (now defunct) Swissair.

"(now defunct)" - Maybe that bumping strategy only works for short term profits.

That is an interesting one!

One thing to add to this is that the a380 as well as 747-8 burn significantly more fuel per seat than their modern equivalent twin jets (a350 / 787). Last I checked the a380 burnt around 25-30% more fuel than a 787/a350. Putting more modern engines onto the a380 might give it another life line.

So in short: no economies of scale vs twin jets plus it being hard to reliably fill such a large plane are stopping jumbo jets.

The specific Rolls Royce engines used on the A380 were developed specially and were a leap in efficiency at the time the aircraft was introduced. The Dreamliner and A350 use engines that are of the same technological level, but the airframes are cheaper to operate because they are made from composites and so are 20-30% lighter per passenger.

> running costs (i.e. fuel and maintenance) scale linearly with thrust

Interesting. Question: Both twin and quads have to be able to take off with one engine failed. Thus, under normal circumstances twins can deliver up to 200% of required power (times 1/2 = 100%), while quads deliver up to 133% (times 3/4 = 100%). If max thrust were a contributor to cost, quads could be cheaper than twins.

However, common understanding seems to be that twins are cheaper. Can you elaborate on this myth?

The 737 is also an old design, right? Is there any particular reason that one has been modernized more than the 747?

Not really. The 737 is sorta like the Porsche 911. Same name, same shape, almost a totally different plane under the skin. When the 737NG came out in the mid-90s (-600,-700,-800,-900) is was basically a brand new airplane.

Now, 20 years, later, Boeing has just started deliveries of the new 737 MAX generation, which again brings substantial improvements.

The number of passengers it seats is sort of a sweet spot, and even during bad times for the airlines, there are still plenty of routes that can maintain the numbers to make it viable to fly a 737. The 747 has a much more limited number of routes where it is viable, so there's less incentive for Boeing to spend money on it.

But don't confuse the 737 of today with that of the original. There have been 3 major redesigns since the original (Classic, NG, and MAX), to the point where the MAX shares little more than the name with the original.

Airlines buy a lot more 20 million dollar planes than they do of 140 million dollar planes. The installed base makes it like Windows. Sure, there are many flaws, but it's so cheap and easy to run most airlines don't care.

If you're talking new planes you're way off with those prices.

The cheapest 737 went for an average price of 80.6M $. That's average and not the list price, which is higher. The most expensive Boeing offering was the 777-9 with an average price of 400M. [1]

The Airbus prices I found with a brief search are from 2013 and range from 83.9M$ for the 319 (I didn't count the 318, since I've never ever seen it in operation) to 403.9M$ (A380-800).

140 million is pretty far away from getting you any new widebody plane from those companies.

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/273941/prices-of-boeing-...

[2] http://www.airbus.com/newsroom/press-releases/en/2013/01/new...

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that the 737 is slowly losing market share. Boeing had to lower the price significantly to generate sales, yet the 737's major draw for customers seems to be the sheer unavailability of A320 production slots in the near and medium term.

>, what has taken over in the big jumbo market?

The "big jumbo market" itself has shrunk in demand and was made less relevant by the newer generation of long-range fuel-efficient (but smaller) planes like Boeing 737Max/777/787 and Airbus A330. Airbus originally projected sales of 1200 A380s in 2005 but only sold ~300 so far. The "missing" 900 sales happened because many airlines rejected A380s designed for hub-&-spoke in favor of smaller planes designed for point-to-point.

The youtube channel Wendover has lots of educational videos about transportation and he has a 10 minute video about the different economics of Airbus A380 vs Boeing 787:


The reason 747 was so successful wasn’t the amount of people it could transport. It was its range. Larger frame led to larger tanks and large range. 747 started long haul non stop flights that weren’t possible with 707 not with two engine planes (before ETOPS). This has changed with longer ranges of A330/340 and 777 and has only exasperated the issue since. Airlines have simply right-sized their fleets.

The 707 has 4 engines and a slightly longer range than the 747... though the 707 held considerably fewer passengers.

The A380 was purpose built for the Airlines like Etihad which use the Hub-Model, where flights are routed through big hubs such as Dubai Airport. To run this you need huge Planes to manage the high passenger flows between the hubs. However most Airlines seem to be moving to a point-to-point model, flying directly between destinations. They utilize larger fleets of smaller planes, like the A320.

Boeing has specially designed the B787 to serve as a point-to-point plane.

Airbus has also acquired a contolling stake in Bombariers C-Series Programme in a move towards smaller planes.

I think you mean Emirates, which has over a 100 of them with nearly all routes via Dubai - there a few 5th freedoms too such as BKK-HKG. Etihad only have a handful of A380 and operate from Abu Dhabi.

Sorry, yes I meant Emirates. Thanks.

Didn’t have my coffee yet.

The Airbus + Bombardier C-series deal was confirmed in in October 2017. In September 2017 Boeing filed a suit against Bombardier, claiming that they were selling their C-series jets to Delta at illegally low prices (less than cost of production). Seems like interesting timing for the deal, although doubtless it's good strategically anyway.

Why is it illegal to sell below the cost of production?

I'm not well versed in all of this, I suspect it comes down to Bombardier being able to do this due to (allegedly illegal) government subsidies rather than being about the specific act itself.


Thank you.

Why did this get downvoted?

It didn't; the confusion is because HN shows visited links with a similar grey to down-voted comments.

(They should fix that.)

Oh haha yes gets me all the time! I was a bit outraged there.

Thanks for the link.

> Airbus has also acquired a contolling stake in Bombariers C-Series Programme in a move towards smaller planes.

The C-Series compares to the Embraer E-Series and the CRJ series (owned since years by Bombardier). It's meant to be more of a regional/short hop plane than a direct competitor to the A320/B737.

This is why after Airbus surprised Boeing by acquiring a majority stake in the C-Series program Boeing is now looking at acquiring a significant stake in Embraer.

The C-Series is bigger than the existing CRJ and E-series. Its largest models overlap with the smallest 737s, and definitely fits in generally with the larger point-to-point narrative, only for smaller domestic city pairs rather than international ones.

Wouldn't it just be the 777 that competes with the a380? It seems like it's just not very cost effective for US airlines to compete with the likes of Etihad or Emirates, which operate with government subsidies. In general, it looks like competition and demand for some international routes are dwindling and thus fewer new big jumbo planes are being bought.

For example, United is the only US airline that flies to India.

Not ceased to exist, but the 777X (900 variant) and A350XWB are 400+ capacity and significantly more efficient. The 747-400 was designed at a time before modern ETOPS ratings and when fuel was significantly cheaper.


Mostly 77W's with some routes using the newer 787/A350 because their better fuel efficiency.

In a previous discussion, avar explains why United and Delta chose to mothball their 747s instead of retrofit them with the fuel tank interting systems that were required by the FAA after December 26th, 2017. UAL and DAL flew their planes right up to the deadline.


Pretty sure there are US freight airlines that still use 747s.

Centurion Cargo flew one by my house Yesterday, you are correct.

Yep. Saw a UPS 747 in Daniel K. Inouye Intl. 2 days ago.

It will live on as a freight plane for a while, but yes the days of the “jumbo jet” for passenger travel are broadly coming to a close apart from a select few routes. The future is in large twin jets. Boeing knocked it out of the park there with the 787 and new 777 models.

Strange turn of events. I remember in the early 80's QANTAS was the only airline in the world who operated a purely all 747 passenger fleet. They are down to about a half dozen now I believe, and those are due to be phased out over the next few years.

I assume "internationally" was an intended-but-missing qualifier there?

Yes, sorry, this was back when TAA (which changed to Australian), Ansett etc. had the domestic market sewn up and QANTAS were doing purely international flights. (Though I believe they may have done some longer domestic routes like Perth-Sydney with 747s?!?).

When Australian Airlines was brought under the QANTAS wing and rebranded, then they went back to 737s, 767s, Airbuses etc. for domestic routes too.

> but Pan American Airlines boss Juan Trippe wanted something special for his passengers, and he approached the aircraft manufacturer with a request for a plane that could carry twice as many passengers as its bread-and-butter long-haul model. In 1966, Trippe signed an order for 25 of the new passenger airliners. The first of these entered service in 1970, and the world would never be the same again.

This is one of those stories that is so often repeated it becomes truth. My issue is that it makes it sound as if Boeing took on creating the 747 because Juan asked for it and business wise there is no way it could have happened like that. But it sounds nice and the type of thing PR wise the press would repeat forever. It was probably more closely that there was a discussion between the heads of the two companies and then Boeing ran the idea by other airlines or did their research and decided it made sense to bet the company on building the 747 (which was another story that has been told time and time again 'the big bet'). I would suspect that Boeing didn't even have a signed commitment from Pan Am to even take on the enormous cost of the program (prior to the first order in 1966) as it wouldn't have made sense for Pan Am to pay anything and/or even guarantee any purchase without being able to get out of the contract w/o any penalties. So this is a bit different than when a ship is built to order for a cruise line because in that case it's a firm order and an order for 1 (or 3 whatever).

Not doubting that a version of this happened just that it sounds so romantic and unrealistic business wise.

*no US passenger airplane. Still cargo 747s in operation.

Shame, it's a beautiful kit. Plus the 747 has personal air fans to tune your cooling. The modern planes tend to have done away with those, meaning you're usually too cold or too hot.

On the other hand, you get higher air pressure, quieter engines, larger windows and MUCH larger bathrooms on the new planes. I choose flights so I can get the 787 whenever possible. Nice plane.

Yep, I find I feel noticeably less jet-lagged and tired when stepping off a 787 versus the usual 737 or A320.

I think the larger bathrooms is an interior config. The airline can design the size of the bathroom.

One of my favorite bathroom configs is on the Lufthansa A340, where they have a lower deck (intruding into the cargo space) with a bunch of lavatories.

I also like the business class ANA 787 bathrooms with the washlet (bidet) toilets.

I believe ANA has bidet toilets set up in all their bathrooms, not just Business.

They weren't when I flew, but that was when they has just gotten deliveries and were still using them on domestic routes, so things may have changed. Now their domestic 787s are the most bare-bone interiors you've ever seen, without even IFE.

Recently flew a 747 (Lufthansa) which had no personal vents.

Before this, flew Mid East carriers (Etihad, Emirates, Qatar) and they all had those vents.

I think it’s specific to an airline .

I thought those vents were standard everywhere until I was on a SAS A340 that didn’t have them.

The Lufthansa 747s are likely the more recent 747-8 model

not an airline, but global supertanker operates a firefighting 747 that was recently fighting the southern california wildfires http://globalsupertanker.com/

Also Atlas, Western Global, National, Kalitta...

This article makes it sound like the 747 is gone from USA skies but it just took longer to transition to all-cargo work than Pan Am originally envisaged. They thought it would last a decade before being displaced by supersonic passenger transports.

UPS haven't even received their newly-ordered 747-8F freighters yet.

Holy crap this is amazing. The end of their About video is hilarious.

This is the video.


Start it at 7:10.

Effectively, the aircraft drops water on a guy who is not expecting it.

Only got to do it once, but the upper deck was nice: it felt like your own private plane. But as far as economy goes, the A380 wins, especially seat 48D.

Huh, I didn’t expect that to happen nearly so soon. I guess financial pressures will do that.

I think FAA changed fuel tank inerting rules, and most airlines decided it was too costly to retrofit the 747.

Are there any 707s still in service? What about the 720s and 727s?

If only they could run on just twin engines.

If only we could say we also didnt operate any windows xp machines.

Hell it was only 5 years ago we still were running windows nt machines with a max version of dotnet 1.0

Talking in regards to airlines btw

Isn’t the White House Air Service or however that is called also an airline?

That's the Special Air Mission, which is a unit within the US Air Force. It's responsible for the highest level of VIP transport (President, VP, high-level cabinet, some special Congressional missions).

The Marine Corp has a similar division for rotary aircraft.

And the USAF has at least one other unit for less-important VIP transport.

You mean the US Air Force? I'd call them a military detachment.

And technically they run VC-25s, not 747s.

Technically article title is incorrect and should be "...no US PASSENGER airlines operate the Boeing 747" -- UPS Airlines is US based and still operates the 747-400[1], it is just they are a cargo airline and not passenger.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UPS_Airlines#Fleet

OK, we've added a “passenger” to the headline.

One of the first things I noticed using FlightRadar24 and similar services is that there are a ton of 747s in US airspace used for cargo, many owned by relatively small firms.


Well, there is Air Force One that is a modified 747 and both are still flying.

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