French Bee Could Become The Most Efficient Long Haul Carrier

French Bee, a small but unique airline, is set to become the world’s most efficient long haul carrier. The reason for this comes down to two unique aspects of the airline’s operating model. First, the fact that it only operates the A350, and second, because of the incredibly dense configuration with which it flies them. Let me explain.

French Bee
French Bee could soon be the most economical long haul airline. Photo: French Bee

How many miles per gallon does your airplane do?

It’s not easy to compare the efficiency of different aircraft as there are so many factors in play. The density of fuel, the geography of the airports, the weather it Is flying through, the length of the route… so many things can change the outcome. However, using data gathered from airlines, we can start to understand how changing passenger numbers alters the equivalent miles per gallon (mpg) of the flight.

According to Wikipedia, the fuel burn of the A350 is one of the lowest of any long haul plane. The Boeing 787-8 has the top spot, with a fuel burn of 5.38kg/km, followed by the elusive Airbus A330-800neo at 5.45kg/km. Then it’s the 787-9, the A330-900neo and then the A350-900.

However, if you look on the among of fuel burned per seat, the A350 is a much better prospect. When its configured with 315 seats, it has a per-seat fuel burn of 2.39l/100km, which equates to 98 mpg. That’s second only to the 304 seat configured Boeing 787-9, which clocks up 102 mpg, according to the source.

Norwegian 787-9
The 787-9 with more passengers returns the best miles per gallon per seat. Photo: Norwegian

So, what happens when you add more seats?

While the Wikipedia resource has no examples of A350-900 mpg changes with different seating configurations, it does have a few for some other models of aircraft. For example:

  • The Boeing 787-9: With 304 passengers, the efficiency is recorded at 102 mpg. Ten seats less (294) lowers this to 94 mpg. Take away a few more passengers, and a long flight with 291 seats has been shown to reduce efficiency to just 76 mpg.
  • The Boeing 777-300ER: With 365 passengers, the aircraft achieves 81 mpg. Reduce this to 344 passengers, and the efficiency goes down to 76 mpg.

These are very generalist assumptions, as things like sector length also have a major bearing on the mpg achievable. But, it’s a start, and can lead us to the conclusion I’ve come to today.

French Bee’s A350

French Bee is planning to take its A350-1000 with a massive 488 total seats. Already, it operates the A350-900 with 411 seats. For comparison, Singapore Airlines flies its A350 (non-ULR) with either 253 or 303 seats on board. Lufthansa’s A350s have either 293 or 319 seats, while Qatar’s have 283. This makes French Bee’s A350-900 some of the densest examples of the type out there.

French Bee -900
French Bee already operates the A350-900 with more seats than most. Photo: French Bee

And the situation is even more pronounced when we look at the A350-1000. Qatar’s A350-1000s are configured with 327 seats, while British Airways’ have 331. To ramp this up to 488 seats on board is going to send French Bee’s per seat fuel economy through the roof.

Let’s say, as we saw with the 787-9 Dreamliner, adding 10 passengers improves miles per gallon per seat by eight. The A350 with its 98 mpg for 315 passengers could, therefore, be boosted by 136 mpg, giving it a total mpg per seat of 234!

Of course, none of this takes into account the routes that the aircraft will fly, or indeed how the additional weight would affect things. But it’s an interesting subject to dive into, particularly given the current climate.

Its sister airline, Air Caraibes, has already taken delivery of an A350-1000. French Bee gets its own in 2021. Photo: Airbus

To put all this in context, a 63 seater bus would have around 570 mpg per seat. A car, with four seats filled, would manage around 146 mpg, whereas a hybrid like the Prius, with all five passenger seats occupied, would get up to around 240 mpg.

Of course, as much as nobody wants to be a middle seat passenger in the back of a Prius, neither will they relish the thought of being on French Bee’s super dense A350-1000. Almost 500 passengers? Crazy.

Would you fly it? Let us know in the comments.