More important than the facilities available within the terminal, runway length determines the types of aircraft and destinations you might see at an airport. Related to this is the required takeoff distance of aircraft. So which commercial passenger planes take off in the shortest amount of runway distance? And why is this useful for airlines? Let us explore.
What are the criteria?
Before we dive into an in-depth look at takeoff distance, we have to define what type of aircraft we are considering. While we say passenger aircraft, it is best that we only mean aircraft that carry over 75 passengers. A small one-person Slepcev Storch is technically a passenger aircraft and only needs 38 meters of the runway- but these aren’t built for commercial passenger operations.
Thus we will be focusing on significant aircraft that we know, such as Boeing or Airbus, that are in production and used in daily operations throughout the world at sea-level operations.
Why is takeoff distance significant?
Not all airports are equal. Some are small thanks to geographical restrictions, like being built too close to a city center (like Hong Kong’s famous Kai Tak airport) and don’t have vast amounts of room to expand or lengthen runways. Others are small as there simply isn’t passenger demand, negating the need for miles of runway.
Thus airlines need aircraft that are flexible enough to carry as many passengers (and freight) as possible while at the same time operating to airports that may not have the optimal runway length.
So which passenger aircraft can take off on the shortest runway?
Does size factor into runway takeoff distance?
Size does play a significant role in how much runway is required. A bigger airframe needs more space to get up to speed. Plus, more fuel, passengers, and cargo significantly impact performance on the runway.
For these reasons, you can imagine that an Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 are out of the game right away.
- The Airbus A380 needs 3,000 m (9,800 ft) of runway to take off fully-loaded.
- The Boeing 747-8 needs 3,100 m (10,200 ft).
Looking at wide-bodies, again the smaller sized versions come out ahead:
- The Airbus A330-800 only requires 2,220 m (7,280 ft)
- The Boeing 777-200 that needs 2,440 m (8,000 ft)
- Although a special mention is the out-of-production Boeing 767-200 that needs just 1,900 m (6,300 ft).
Moving smaller, we have the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320.
- Of the former, the Boeing 737-100 can operate on runways of 1,830 m (6,000 ft),
- The smallest variant of the Airbus A320, the A318, only needs 1,780 m (5,840 ft).
But would you believe we can go even shorter?
Ultra-small runway capable aircraft (75+ seats):
The Embraer E170 needs 1,644m (5,394 ft), while the competitive Airbus A220-100 only requires a runway of 1,463 m (4,800 ft).
Of jet aircraft, the Airbus A220-100 takes the cake with the shortest takeoff distance.
For those curious, if we changed the specifications to be the slightly lower capacity (70 seats instead of 75) we can go slightly shorter. An ATR-72-600 only needs 1,367 m (4,485 ft) and thus requires the shortest runway. Any smaller aircraft from here now no-longer fit our conditions of carrying 70+ passengers.