Rise of lean, digitally sophisticated planes sees 747's days numbered

07 July 2017 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

Huge improvements to airline technology could soon see fleets expand by over 20,000, while the number of passengers by the end of 2017 could increase by 10,000, according to a new report. The iconic Boeing 747 meanwhile looks set to be phased out rapidly, as planes with double the seating capacity begin to take to their routes.

Top Chinese cities like Hangzhou, Xi’an, or Chengdu were once inconvenient destinations for frequent flyers, however, thanks to recent innovations in fuel-efficiency technology, the likes of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner or Airbus’ A350 can now offer more non-stop routes from less popular locations. Passengers in the Middle East and Asia are seeing new opportunities for single flight trips to US West Coast, urban areas in China, and Perth, London, Doha, Edinburgh, Sao Paulo and Lome.

Oliver Wyman’s 2017 Fleet Forecast claims greater improvements could be on the way in the near future though, with airlines aiming to expand even further, in line with an 10,300 increase in the number of passengers by the end of 2017, alongside 20,000 new aircrafts expected to be delivered to commercial operators worldwide. Within the next decade 58% of the planes designed before 2000 stand to be replaced, with 10,000 earmarked for this year alone.

In accordance with the drastic replacement rate, Tom Cooper, Vice President with CAVOK, the aviation wing of Oliver Wyman, said, “The average age of the fleet will drop to 9.7 years old from 11.2 years today.”

The newer jets will have better technology than before with aircrafts providing more digitalised systems and predictive maintenance which should allow for planes to endure longer flying hours and offer new services to the passengers as well as well as the crew. One of the main features will include punctuality with more on-time takeoffs and arrivals.

Rise of lean, digitally sophisticated planes sees 747's days numbered

The structure of the 787s and A350s guarantees a better journey for passengers with the new built-in features, including a lighter composite structure greater pressurisation in the cabins which mimics lower altitudes. In addition, the new aircrafts will also deliver humidity controlled air, larger windows and electronically controlled window shades. The new planes are claimed to be more environmental friendly with less noise and a smaller carbon footprint, with Boeing 787 Dreamliner has 20 to 25% decrease in carbon dioxide emissions, and emits less hydrocarbon and smoke.

Asian fleet takes off

Overall, by 2027 the Asian fleet is expected to double in size, owing a great deal of success to the growth in the Chinese and Indian fleets. Aside from Asia, the North American fleet is expected to grow by 0.8% and will increase by 0.8% and Europe holding second place.

According to Cooper, overtaking the North American market, “Asia is the big regional story for the Fleet of the Future. By next year, the Asian fleet will become the largest segment, almost doubling its size by 2027 propelled by growth in the Chinese and Indian fleets.”

Within another decade, 7 of 10 planes will be narrow-body aircrafts, with emerging Asian fleets offering low-cost airlines on a worldwide scale. Narrow bodies, such as the Boeing 737MAX or the Airbus A320neo offer wider benefits, one being fuel efficiency. One of the most prominent narrow flights fly between mainland United States and Hawaii in addition to the trans-Atlantic routes between East Coast cities and European cities including Dublin and Lisbon.

For the past century, the prominences of the 747s have dominated the overseas flights, particularly in terms of passenger transport. The 50-seater regional jets and turbo-props are being replaced by 70 to 100 seat planes. The future seems bright for Boeing and Airbus aircrafts as they will continue to make up most of the fleet, however have been underperforming according to recent studies.

“The share of planes not produced by one or the other dropped from a high of 29% in 2009 to 17% in 2016. This trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future,” said John Smiley, Senior Manager of Market Intelligence at CAVOK.

Overall, if the digitally complex fleet were to keep their promises and continue to advance, then airlines stand to provide a better service experience to customers, while improving overall efficiency standards. Smiley concluded, “This is good news for both airlines and passengers. The newer jets have more digitised systems and predictive maintenance that should keep planes flying longer and provide new services to passengers and the crew. With one quarter of delays airline-related, the better overall reliability may translate into more on-time take-offs and arrivals — also a big plus for weary business travellers.”