A new American carrier is challenging the low-cost model by operating a solely jumbo-jet fleet. Avatar Airlines hopes to revive waning interest in Boeing’s 747 by bringing it to the ultra-low-cost market. Such a decision prompts us to ask: are jumbo jets the future for low-cost airlines?
A 747-8 revival?
And we thought that Boeing’s 747 production was ending. Not quite! Last year, we reported that Triumph Aerostructures was planning to terminate operations with the subsequent end of the 747 production line looking likely.
However, recent developments suggest that the 747 is far from redundant. On 13 February 2020, EIN Presswire announced that Boeing had received a Letter of Intent from a start-up airline for the acquisition of 30 new 747-8 aircraft. Avatar Airlines, which operates under the low-cost model, has expressed interest in acquiring brand-new 747 aircraft.
This certainly comes as a shock after most airlines have decided to retire their aging fleet in favor of other replacements. Qantas is the most recent example of this. However, Avatar Airlines is completely committed to the 747. It says that its interest in the model will help to keep it alive. But that’s not the only reason. It believes that the 747 is a revolution for the low-cost model. This is how.
747 for low-cost travel could work
Although a seemingly unnatural choice, flying 747s on low-cost carriers could work. The 747, or “Queen of the Skies”, is a wide-bodied long-haul aircraft that typically operates for standard commercial airlines. During its inception, the 747 was somewhat of a glamorous way to fly. The earlier variants such as the -100 and -200 featured a spiral staircase and ample seat room.
However, luxury is not what makes this aircraft popular for low-cost travel. In this case, it’s the aircraft’s capacity ratio. If low-cost airlines continue to operate a more simple service, without the frills and extra legroom, then they’re able to engineer an aircraft with an abundance of seats. For example, Avatar Airlines will use 747-8 aircraft with 539 lower-deck economy seats. The upper deck will boast 42 seats in business class. Therefore, efficiencies can be gained through the amount of seating and costs will go down.
If airlines are able to offer so many seats and fill their aircraft to capacity then they are able to charge reasonable, affordable fares for their passengers. As a result, this would pit airlines against their competition very well.
Of course, for this to be most effective the flight must be full. Within the 747’s history, many airlines have experienced this very dilemma.
What’s wrong with the 747 for low-cost?
Herein lies one of the issues with the 747 for low-cost airlines. Yes, low-cost airlines are popular and yes, low-cost airlines regularly fill their aircraft. But they don’t operate close to the number of seats that the 747 would be able to offer.
For example, the world’s largest low-cost airline at the moment is Southwest Airlines. Its largest aircraft in terms of seating capacity is the Boeing 737-800 and 737 MAX 8. Both of these aircraft seat a maximum of 175 passengers. That’s just 30% of the seats that Avatar Airlines’ 747-8 would offer. Is it possible for a low-cost airline to consistently fill a 747-8 aircraft to capacity?
In addition, the 747-8 could work out to be less fuel-efficient than other aircraft options. In comparison to Southwest Airlines’ largest aircraft, the 737 MAX 8 and 737-800, the 747-8 burns a lot more fuel per seat. According to Wikipedia, the 747-8’s fuel burn can be between 2.65L/100km (89mpg) and 3.35L/100km (70mpg). By contrast, the 737-800 burns fuel at a rate of between 2.44L/100km (96mpg) and 2.68L/100km (88mpg) depending on the flight distance. The 737 MAX 8 burns fuel at a rate of 2.04L/100km (115mpg) and 2.28L/100km (103.2mpg). The costs for fuel for the 747-8 might not work so well with the low-cost model.
What’s more, there’s the environmental cost to factor in. Whilst environmental concerns are not solely linked to flying low-cost, there has been recent debate about whether ultra-low-cost airlines truly represent the cost of flying in their airfares. Cheap airfares, with such a bad impact on the environment, are not representative of how the aviation industry is evolving.
In the most basic terms, the seat profit of flying 747s could work for low-cost airlines. If they also consider flying to airports with appropriate code types for the size of the aircraft, there should also be no problems. They might be limited on destinations but enough of the world’s airports can accommodate the 747-8 specification.
However, the success of the low-cost 747 model really does depend on customer demand. That said, Avatar Airlines seems particularly confident in its strategy. Perhaps it’s seen something which everyone else has missed.
Would the 747 low-cost strategy work? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.