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Future not good for super sized passenger jets

Bigger is not always better

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Colin Leighfield25/04/2015 07:39:13
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This is a very topical subject right now and is potentially central to the heavily propagandised campaign to get the third runway at Heathrow, based on the principle of using it as a "Superhub" which everyone travels to for their long-distance flights. This strategy is largely based on the use of the heavies, currently the A380 and 747/8.

However, it is true that not a single order was placed in 2014 for passenger 747/8s or A380s, but hundreds for 787s and A350s. The Emirates order is exceptional but despite the huge value of the order, it's a drop in the ocean compared to the continuous numbers of planes needed to keep these production lines going for the decades needed to make them substantially profitable. The new generation 787 and A350 have the same range capability as the heavies, but can make a profit with half the passenger numbers. Also, they don't need "Superhubs", regional airports like Birmingham with its' new longer runway can operate these very effectively.

The argument seems likely to move between the Davies Commission plan to keep everything "London-centric" with Heathrow expansion, or to what seems to me to be the far more suitable German model of a number of fully capable regional airports like Frankfurt, Cologne, Munich etc. and no single "Superhub". At the moment, the government is blindly supporting the Davies Commission, but the environmental issues surrounding Heathrow expansion might yet be a killer, so its' by no means certain and for me personally, it would be a big mistake.

So, as much as I love the big ones and travel quite a lot, it looks as if the cards are probably stacked the other way as we see modern technology enable the smaller planes to match the seat economics of the bigger ones, with much greater flexibility and lower environmental impact. Although partially retired, the things I still do include some involvement with this issue and reflect things that have been discussed only this week. Airport and airliner design strategy are intrinsically linked right now and this will pan itself out over the next 10 years. At the moment, it seems to be going against the big guys, but it might rebound the other way. We'll see.

cymaz25/04/2015 08:33:25
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Agreed Colin, super hubs are great but when things go wrong ( weather/ attack threat) they go very wrong. Big planes with limited landing areas ....whereas smaller cheaper planes and more regional slots makes sense. At least they can be diverted and land somewhere else.

buster prop25/04/2015 09:04:14
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Hosted by buster prop on 24/04/2015 22:52:50:

Ah well.. I've flown an A380 : on a cockpit simulator. My son lives in Abu Dhabi and there's an A380 SIM in the Y as island shopping mall. I had a fly on it and landed at Heathrow! There is no control column just a side stick on the left of the pilot's seat. I had to resist the temptation to pull back in turns to keep the nose up, it's all automatic on the 380 as is rudder. No need for coordinated turns, the rudder bar is mainly for ground steering. I have flown on a 380 as a passenger from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne, about 14 hours.

I meant to say Dubai to Melbourne On a 380, I also went to Melbourne from Abu Dhabi on a 777 300 E R. E R is the Extended Range version which is the subject of the original post. I suppose Emirates have gone with the 380 because they want Dubai to be the UAE hub airport. I think Etihad only have one 380 and they rely on 777s for long haul flights. They use the 777 to fly to the UK as well, about 6 1/2 hrs.

Colin Leighfield25/04/2015 09:36:31
5975 forum posts
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Cymaz, bang on, another good reason why centralisation isn't a good idea. Buster, interesting experiences. I've done a few long distance flights in recent years to Oz, NZ, via Dubai, HK, Singapore and KL, as well as to the U.S. through JFK and Miami. All,of these though in 747s, 777s and A330s, (my least favourite). Sadly I haven't fallen lucky yet with the A380, though I hope to and await my first go on the 787.

You're right about Emirates plans being related to airport expansion at Dubai, in that example the hub case stands up. Could be the exception rather than the rule though?

John Privett25/04/2015 09:46:42
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Posted by Colin Leighfield on 25/04/2015 09:36:31:

You're right about Emirates plans being related to airport expansion at Dubai, in that example the hub case stands up. Could be the exception rather than the rule though?

I think that is very much the exception. They've taken a place that a relatively small number of people travel to (as a destination) and made it the hub of the global network.

I'd be interested to see the stats on how many passengers arriving at Dubai (or other hub airports in the region) depart almost immediately on the next leg of their journey without ever leaving the airport. It must be a much higher percentage than 'traditional' busy airports like LHR, JFK, LAX etc which are destinations in their own right, and hubs as a secondary function.

Mark Kettle 125/04/2015 10:21:27
2491 forum posts
1504 photos

Within twenty years time the skies will look different as regards the shape of the aircraft.

Colin Leighfield25/04/2015 10:30:36
5975 forum posts
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John, I bet you're right. Mark, it might be more gradual though. Probably many of the planes being built now and certainly in the next 10 years will still be flying in 20'years from now. I probably won't last long enough to see it though, sadly.

avtur25/04/2015 11:30:09
883 forum posts
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Posted by Colin Leighfield on 25/04/2015 07:39:13:


The argument seems likely to move between the Davies Commission plan to keep everything "London-centric" with Heathrow expansion, or to what seems to me to be the far more suitable German model of a number of fully capable regional airports like Frankfurt, Cologne, Munich etc. and no single "Superhub". At the moment, the government is blindly supporting the Davies Commission, but the environmental issues surrounding Heathrow expansion might yet be a killer, so its' by no means certain and for me personally, it would be a big mistake.


I have mixed opinion about this. As a Manchester based passenger I have concerns about a plan that reinforces the London-centric nature of airport development. Just this week I made the basically simple journey to Turin, Italy. I had to meet a colleague to fly from Gatwick. Travel from Manchester to Gatwick is a complete pain, there is no longer a flight connection. So it's either train or car, the train is silly money (nearly £400 return - standard class) and requires at least two connections, which adds time and increases the chance of delay. So I chose to drive, that's another car on the road carrying only a single passenger.

Perhaps the additional runway to be positioned at either Heathrow or Gatwick isn't intended to help UK passengers, maybe the international passenger demand for a London hub is just so much greater than the demand created by UK passengers.

The problem is how do passengers from the UK regions link to the hub, the demand for slots at Heathrow is so great that airlines want to operate the largest aircraft possible in the slots they have; so a twin turbo prop puddle jumper for a UK regional airport doesn't get a look in.

A number of flights I have made have involved connecting to hubs at Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris which are far more easily accessible from a UK regional airport that some connections many connections via London.

Emirates are now operating two daily A380 flights from Manchester which is good for a regional airport, although the demand for these flights is driven by the fact that they are destined for Dubai, hub airport. As crazy as it sounds the A380 flights are really feeder flights to the Dubai hub.

The continuing growth of "super - jumbo" has great benefits given that it creates strong demand for UK supplied components, in the case of the A380 the engines from RR and the aircraft wings from the Airbus factory in North Wales. This gives rise to a large number of high skill well paid jobs in the UK, which is a good thing.


Edited By avtur on 25/04/2015 11:35:54

PeterF25/04/2015 11:55:35
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The thing about Dubai making it a super hub is the fact it runs 24hrs a day so it can operate suitable arrival and departure times to anywhere. Heathrow could never match that. I have used Dubai countless times for flights to far east, NZ & Australia and one major reason is living in the North East with Emirates feeder flight from Newcastle to Dubai, it is more convenient than going through London.

Colin Leighfield25/04/2015 13:17:09
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Peter, exactly right about Dubai, it's a pretty unique position. Avtur, the other piece of the jigsaw is Heathrow thinking that when high speed rail comes on line to Birmingham and Manchester, passengers from the North will easily get down to there. The other side of that though is that it also enables potential passengers from London to get to easily fly from Birmingham and Manchester if the capability is there. There's no reason why it shouldn't be.

The Davies position is driven by the preponderance of London interests pushing to keep it all down there and the CBI particularly supporting that view. Also it suits the airlines to keep their eggs in one basket to minimise their own costs. However, CBI only has 1,600 members in the UK, it is primarily funded by a small number of very large organisations, not all of which are based in the UK, but have strong vested interests in the London case. Sadly, the Government tends to swallow the line that it is "The Voice of Business". Bearing in mind that the government justifies spending huge amounts of money on HS2 " to develop and grow the economy away from the South East", it seems odd that they can't understand joined up thinking and apply the same strategy to air travel, which would have an effect far more quickly than high speed rail will.

So who knows how it will go? It certainly influences future airliner build and while you make a good point about building wings and engines for A380s, we will make far more out of building wings and engines for A350s. Hopefully, we'll do both. Interesting times that we are in.

Piers Bowlan25/04/2015 19:09:53
1995 forum posts
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Colin, I think the business case for the UK airport hub being located in the SE is pretty clear and testament to that is the 75 million passengers that use LHR every year. I can't imagine that the Davis position is only influenced by the 'CBI and its 1600 members'. I am sure the airlines and their astute market research teams have an input here too. The fact is that LHR is full and has needed more runway capacity for the last 30 years no less. It only 'works' handling the air traffic that it does due to the professionalism and consummate skill of the UK National Air Traffic Service (best in the world). It is interesting that you mention the German model. Frankfurt Main Airport handles 60m passengers a year yet has four runways while Paris CDG airport - 62m and four runways while Madrid also has four runways yet only handles 39m passengers per annum. So much for your 'heavily propagandised campaign for the third runway at LHR', they don't need propaganda because the facts are clear. A third (short) runway at LHR would facilitate more feeder services from the UK regions/Europe, free airport congestion so reducing pollution and noise by avoiding holding delays at peak times- very environmentally friendly and cost effective too! Why was it not done years ago? Answer:- Politics/votes!

As far as the A380 is concerned it suits a limited number of routes but is quiet and comfortable for passengers. There has been talk of the production line closing soon although an A380 NEO (new engine option) has been muted. This would involve the aircraft going on a severe diet to lose weight and more efficient engines but as a further £2B would be required for this development it is thought that the numbers don't stack up in terms of future sales, (unless Emirates fund it?).

The future is in large twins:- B777ER, B787, A350 etc.

Colin Leighfield25/04/2015 20:18:38
5975 forum posts
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Piers, you clearly know your stuff and I don't directly disagree with your facts. However, the environmental case against extending Heathrow is very real. It stands a good chance of stopping it. The London expansion threat can be resolved by the Gatwick proposal without putting the drag on regional airport growth that LHR third runway will. The givernment is quoting the need to re-focus economic activity away from the South East as the main justification for building HS2, they should apply the same thinking to airport strategy. High Speed rail will also enable London originated traffic to get to BHX in about 45 minutes. That airport currently running at 9/11 million passengers per annum has a predicted capacity of 36 million with the extended runway. Also if the essential strategy of greatly increasing economic activity further North works, as it needs to, the justification for reducing the focus on the SE can only increase.

We'll just have to see how it goes, I couldn't agree more that the future is with the long range twins and not with the heavies, certainly not with the ways things look now. I'm still looking forward to my first flight on an A380 though!

avtur25/04/2015 20:58:02
883 forum posts
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Posted by Colin Leighfield on 25/04/2015 20:18:38:

The London expansion threat can be resolved by the Gatwick proposal without putting the drag on regional airport growth that LHR third runway will. The government is quoting the need to re-focus economic activity away from the South East as the main justification for building HS2, they should apply the same thinking to airport strategy.

This business of HS2 cutting journey times really doesn't add up in my mind. We are given 'headline figures' but the number of people who will be in the position to make use of those figures is going to be relatively small. Quoting the Manchester to Euston time is fine but how many people live/work near enough to these terminus locations to be able to benefit from these times.??

The Manchester to Euston time may well be reduced by HS2 but the added inefficiency of connection at each end will cripple the saving that the proposed HS2 might offer. As far as airprot expansion goes "from the point of view of UK domestic passengers" the idea of super hub in the south east fed by HS2 type rail service simply does not add up ... in my humble opinion.

The justification of the south east super hub may possibly come from the ability to transit passengers through the hub onto flights which both begin and end outside the UK. Sure there is a business benefit in being able to handle these flights, but how many of the passengers will actually set foot in the UK. And again I will say how easily will UK folks from the regions be able to access these super hub flights?

The nature of how I earn a living relies very heavily on the success both of UK airports and the likes of RR Derby producing engines and Airbus in North Wales building Airbus wings. I would like to see an outcome that secures the future of UK airports (not just in the south east) and these high tech manufacturing jobs which come from building the aircraft and components. i would also like to see passengers from the regions of the UK considered ... however I suspect they will loose out to the requirements of the greater number of international passengers. 


Edited By avtur on 25/04/2015 21:07:53

Piers Bowlan25/04/2015 22:15:13
1995 forum posts
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First Colin, 'The environmental case against extending LHR is very real' More traffic flying out of Manchester or Birmingham will still create more air traffic noise and air pollution, the only difference is that it will be moved a couple of hundred miles up the M1. It is not as if the midlands is uninhabited wink 2. But you are right, with politicians of every political persuasion trying to 'out-green' each other what chance does a third runway at LHR have of getting through? When the Davies report makes it's final recommendation a public inquiry will no doubt be called for. Think LHR T5 - Ten years and £300m in legal costs later, they started work on it!

I personally think that the Gatwick proposal is a non starter as some years ago they built the North Terminal and the cargo centre where a new runway should have been located, as it was decided at the time (BAA) that a new runway would never be required. The last proposal I saw was a new runway nearly three miles from the terminals.

The 'Boris Island airport' in the Thames estuary is not on the table by virtue of the fact that the country is £1.55T in debt already. A third Heathrow runway is a relatively 'cheap' way of easing the problems with the existing air traffic that uses LHR, never mind further expansion.

I am not against investment in infrastructure like HS-2 (far from it). What about building a mass transit system linking LGW with LHR while we are at it. Obviously creating increased economic activity up north is highly desirable but usually you develop airports to meet the demand not develop the airport in the hope that an Airline will want to use it.

Simon Chaddock25/04/2015 22:40:06
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2931 photos

Although not strictly to do with airliners just how sound is the strategy for HS2. As already stated the train fair from Manchester to London is already silly money despite the fact it is running on 'old' rails. How will HS2 be any cheaper with billions of capital to recover.

And to make matters worse very high speed trains are not that eco friendly unless the considerable power required comes from renewable sources. If power supply gets to the point that only renewable energy is available HS2 speeds use just too much energy.

My own guess is economy will take precedence over speed resulting in even bigger big twin engined airliners with each fan giving over 100,000lb thrust and optimised for slightly lower cruise speeds.

Colin Leighfield25/04/2015 23:00:10
5975 forum posts
2498 photos

I think where we might be missing each other Piers is not around the capacity to serve London, whichever way we see that, but around a strategy on which millions are being spent in publicity, (I've got the numbers) which advocates the development of LHR as the national "Superhub" to which us Non-London Region denizens travel to catch our international flights. I already object to having to do that as it is, I and many others want to have access to long-range flights from my regional airport, which is increasingly capable of handling them. The Davies Commission report quotes that as being fifty years away, utterly ridiculous. It makes the concession that some regional development can occur in the meantime, but gives it no priority.

I don't dispute that any volume increase in traffic has an environmental impact, wherever it occurs, the environmental issues I refer to though are those specifically associated with Heathrow, which could be the show-stopper.

There is so much distortion, smoke and mirrors and misleading information being bandied around on national transport issues to beggar belief right now, transparency and straight talking are evident by their absence. Let's see where it goes from here.

Colin Leighfield26/04/2015 08:31:29
5975 forum posts
2498 photos

Simon, I think you are smack on with this. However, at present there is a political commitment to high speed rail which seems to be unstoppable. What's more, it will cost many more times as much per kilometre to run than existing rail and can only break even if the passenger numbers increase several times over. Because the predictions show an increase of about 50 % only on HS2 in the first few years and the government is saying that fares will be held at current levels, there will inevitably be a huge tax-payer subsidy that will take a lot money from somewhere else.

Honest figures are like hens' teeth on this project, but I found out that £3billion of the £15 billion contribution claimed as a benefit from HS2 is a calculation of the productive time that business people spend working on the train. I then discovered that in making the calculation, the travel time on the existing Virgin train had been used, not the much shorter predicted time on the new service! It beggars belief, but sadly if you look hard you will find more like that. Also the government sponsored environmental report by Booze, Alan and Hamilton says that the emissions from high speed rail measured over the first 60 years will actually be higher per passenger kilometre than from road or air travel.

I think the only way this can work is as part of a fully integrated transport system directly linking with the airports and fully connected to the continent through HS1, which isn't planned strangely, questions are being asked about that. Also part of the justification is based on releasing capacity from West Coast Main Line for improved local services and increased freight utilisation, although all of this remains vague at present.

I can see fully developed versions of A350 and 787 flying with the sort of engine power that you suggest. Perhaps even within the next 5 years. The environmental profile of aviation is likely to improve at a faster rate than rail can manage, so there will be a lot to play for here for some time to come if political prejudices and dogma can be kept under control, although that would be a first.

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