Commercial carriers are increasing their average fleet capacity, with high fuel prices making larger plans more attractive – as a consequence the number of small size seat model planes has dropped as larger plans have taken wing. However, operators too have come up with a cunning way in which to increase the total fleet capacity, all without adding a single new plane to the fleet – carriers are simply adding more seats to already existent aircrafts.
The number of planes in the world’s commercial carrier fleets has been steadily increasing of the past decade reaching more than 23,000 in 2015, and, according to a recent Cavok study, will continue to grow over the coming decade to more than 34,000.
Bigger craft capacity
However, while the stock is set to increase, macro-economic factors – primarily high fuel costs – have in recent years seen carriers generally shift to larger plans, reveals an analysis by Dallas Morning News using data from PlaneStats.com, a data platform powered by Oliver Wyman. This in turn has seen the number of flights per week by airplane size start to favour +100, 100 and 75 seat models. Particularly +100 models are flying almost 50% more frequently than in 2005, while the number of flights of the fewer than 45 seat models has plummeted.
The number of seats per airplane too has been steadily rising, with European carriers now averaging 143 seats, up 12.6% on 2009, Oceanic carriers generally have 124 seats, up 14.8% while US carriers are up 11.2% in seat capacity. Asian carriers have remained steady at 164 seats. The world on average has seen a 13.3% increase in seat numbers, now at 136.
While the number of planes is steadily rising, commercial carriers are also further expanding the number of seats by adding more to the existing fleet. US carriers for instance have been adding more seats to their Boeing 737-800 stock, up 10 seats to 160. A Boeing 777-200 has the potential to 42 extra seats, while an Airbus A320 can be padded out with an additional 16 seats. The economic and environmental consequence of increasing the number of seats – while potentially reducing comfort for some as well as boarding – can add considerable financial benefits for large carriers as they reduce their fuel consumption per passenger and its corresponding costs – allowing them to better compete with low cost carriers.
"Upgauging to larger aircraft is the trend du jour,” comments Vikram Krishnan, partner at Oliver Wyman. “Network carriers are switching some regional jet operations to larger jets with multiple cabins, since these are cheaper to operate per seat, primarily because of fuel costs. […] Watch for this trend to stabilise or even reverse if fuel prices decline.”