I read a story from Forbes recently where the possibilities that the 787 opened up were discussed. Specifically, how new routes to China were springing up now that the 787 was available to do “long and thin” routes for airlines.
United Airlines opened up a thrice weekly route from San Francisco to Chengdu (in the interior of China) that is 6857 miles in length. Not nearly the maximum distance a 787 can fly but certainly a distance that isn’t flown often. That is the equivalent of flying across the United States from coast to coast 3 times.
The reason that route is possible is because the 787 delivers seat costs that are less than much larger airliners (777, 747, A380) despite it being able to seat just over 200 people. The United Airlines 787 seats just 219 people, for instance.
On that San Francisco – Chengdu route 40 years ago, the route would have been flown from San Francisco to some place such as Japan on a 747 where a smaller but still long-legged airliner such as the DC-8 would carry some passengers onwards to Chengdu, a distance of 2100 more miles.
That is the magic of airliners today: direct routes instead of spoke-hub–hub-spoke.
It’s why airlines do want range and the idea that airlines will accept less range for a cheaper vehicle is somewhat suspect in my opinion.
It’s why I believe that the A380 is a niche airliner and will forever be a niche airliner. Why should I fly from Dallas to Dubai to Mumbai on Emirates when I could theoretically hop on an American Airlines’ 787 and fly from DFW to Mumbai direct? (And very doable on the 787-9, I might add.)
This is the quiet revolution of the 787. It isn’t the carbon fibre or engines. It’s the very cost effective airliner for such routes.