Published in May 2016 issue
With United Airlines recently announcing its new nonstop service from San Francisco to Singapore with the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (starting on June 1, 2016), it is safe to say that the 787 program has achieved its mission of enabling airlines to launch comercial routes that were previously unviable.
By Rohan Anand
It was 1997 when my dad and I toured the Boeing Factory in Everett, Washington. I was 10 years old, but I have vivid memories of learning about the cutting-edge 777, which had joined the Boeing family hardly two years prior. Little did I know that this aircraft would eventually signal the twilight of the beloved ‘tri-holer’ McDonnell-Douglas MD-11s, DC-10s, Lockheed Martin L-10/11s, all the way down to the 747s and Airbus A340s. But, as time would tell, the best was yet to come.
At that time, no one, not even Boeing, could envision that the 777 would become one of its best-selling airframes to date, as well as one of the safest and most technically advanced aircraft to ever grace the skies.
Two decades later, the AvGeek in me has passed the 10-yearold embryonic phase, but I can say with full confidence that the elegance, superiority, and efficiency of the 777 will soon be outpaced by its younger sibling, the 787. This will especially be the case as the Dreamliner continues to gain popularity and link global markets in ways that were previously unimaginable by all the stakeholders in the commercial air transport industry—from manufacturers to airports, to suppliers, to customers.I came to this realization a few weeks ago, with the United Airlines (UA) announcement of the SFO-to-Singapore (SIN) nonstop on the Dreamliner’s -9 series. This service will join a portfolio of new routes that United is launching from its SFO base in 2016— including Xi’an (XIY), Tel Aviv (TLV), and Auckland (AKL).
Elsewhere across United’s network, routes like Denver (DEN) to Tokyo (NRT), SFO to Chengdu (CTU), Los Angeles (LAX) to Melbourne (MEL), and Houston (IAH) to Lagos (LOS) have become realities. At American Airlines (AA), based at my hometown airport, Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW), the 787 is flying daily missions to China. Ten years ago, when AA lost a bid for route authority to fly from DFW to Beijing (PEK), I thought all hope for a direct flight to the Chinese capital had been lost.
Let’s be real, AvGeeks: the 787 is opening up the world to so many people. And it is a fascinating case study to sit back and watch.
No doubt, Boeing encountered some massive stumbling blocks as it rolled out the 787—frustrating for end-users and an embarrassing spectacle for Boeing itself. We’d expected AA, for example, to launch new routes like LAX to AKL (now also scheduled to begin in 2016) years ago. Especially since AA, particularly during the pre-bankruptcy days, was relying on its partner oneworld carriers to route traffic to foreign markets rather than offer inventory on its own metal.
We wanted the 787 to succeed. And to say that there were teething problems would be a massive understatement.
But, perhaps, we can look past the trials and tribulations of the 787 to acknowledge that there may be a silver lining; as commercial strategy has evolved greatly over the past few years, and the economic outlook has improved and oil price volatility has subsided, the outlook is much brighter.
Going hand-in-hand with this evolution has been a major game change; owing to the growth and power of the Middle Eastern carriers, the rise of long-haul, lowcost and hybrid airlines, and general shifts in commercial aviation strategy, the value of global alliances has diminished greatly over the past 10 years. It is now far more common to see airlines form partnerships, agreements and joint venture alliances outside of their traditional alliance ‘partners’, a la Qantas (QF) and Emirates (EK), Delta (DL) and Virgin Atlantic (VS), Cathay Pacific (CX) and Air New Zealand (NZ), and so forth.
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In an industry in which profit margins are thin and revenue initiatives are king, it’s all about reaping the maximum benefits as an individual entity rather than relying on partner carriers to help with the heavy lifting. The 787 serves as a fantastic bargaining chip for airlines to grow in spaces they’ve never existed before, as the spotlight continues to shift away from traditional, congested and slot-controlled sixth-freedom traffic hubs such as London Heathrow (LHR), NRT, and Frankfurt (FRA).
Perfect example: one-stop itineraries from LHR to AKL over Guangzhou (CAN). Who would have thought?
Let’s start with the Americas, where the 787 was invented: as discussed, AA and UA have already made impressive strides in growing their networks in ‘thinner’ markets that were previously impractical without the Dreamliner’s lower operating costs. It is significant that United’s Star Alliance partner Singapore Airlines (SQ) offers two daily flights to SFO, but both require a stopover in Hong Kong (HKG) or Seoul (ICN).
With the 787, United can now grab a slice of that pie and derive the corresponding revenue benefits as the only carrier to offer nonstop service from the US to Singapore, a very highvolume business and leisure market.
Beyond US borders, Aeromexico (AM) and Air Canada (AC) have leveraged the 787s to appeal to travelers who wish to circumvent the roadblocks poised by the US Visa Waiver Program, which prevents non- US citizens from traveling between foreign countries that involve a stopover in the US without prior authorization. AC has invested heavily in expanding the reach of its Toronto Pearson (YYZ) hub to India, Japan, the UAE, and Israel on the 787. That appeals to the huge immigrant diaspora in Canada.
AM has successfully used the 787 to fly nonstop to NRT after years of being encumbered by Mexico City’s high-altitude airport (MEX), which required a technical stop in Tijuana (TIJ) or Monterrey (MTY) on the outbound journey because of weight restrictions with the Boeing 767 and 777 on the airline’s fleet. This connects nicely with Aeromexico’s robust network to Central and South America, also served by the 787.
Along the same lines, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) is deploying its Dreamliners across four continents from its Bole airport in Addis Ababa (ADD), connecting markets like São Paulo (GRU) and HKG with a single stopover. The 787 has permitted ET to become one of the world’s preeminent global airlines from Africa, with network presence in nearly every region of the world.
Elsewhere across the world, the 787 is transforming routes for once lethargic and government-owned airlines—such as LOT Polish Airline (LO), Air India (AI), Royal Air Maroc (AT), Royal Jordanian (RJ), China Southern (CZ), and Royal Brunei (BI)— from loss-making to cash cows. It is also helping airlines competing in the low-cost carrier and charter space, such as Scoot (TZ), Norwegian (SK), TUI Airlines Netherlands (OR), Thomson Airways (BY), and Jetstar (JQ), which transport passengers across long distances in a budget-friendly manner.
Put simply, in the airline world, the 787 truly does help everyone win. A Little creativity and a lot of sound decisionmaking go a long way.
As I prepare to make a trip up to Seattle (SEA) this year (hopefully) to tour Boeing once again, I felt that it was right to pay homage to what the company has done for global airlines. Despite the trials and tribulations of 2013, Boeing, you’ve really done well by airlines.