The growth of commercial air transportation has ushered in new trends in how people travel, and with it, new sub-industries have emerged. The airline transportation market is growing at an unprecedented rat. In 2016, for instance, airlines carried a 7% increase in passengers over 2015. With new passengers comes new demands. Because of this growth, new routes are rapidly opening and airports that were once considered only a secondary city are now becoming major hubs. And what seems to be emerging at the forefront of the new era in passenger growth is the introduction of narrow body aircraft on long haul routes.

How can Narrow Bodies fulfill this long-range requirement?

The two big players in the new era of narrow bodies for long-haul flights are the Airbus 321neoLR and the Boeing 737 MAX. “Their increased range and efficiency allows them to not only compete in a market once solely dominated by wide bodies but to also fulfill a niche that has clear demand,” says Gediminas Ziemelis, Chairman of the Board at Avia Solutions Group.

The A321LR is the newest entry into the Airbus 320 family and set to have the longest range on the A320 platform. This new generation in the A321 lineup benefits from a new engine option and utilizes the CFM International Leap-1A engines and three auxiliary fuel tanks. Additionally the A321LR has structural improvements in the wing to accommodate higher wing loading and in the landing gear for added support. This aircraft has a two-class 206 seat configuration and boasts a range of 7400 Km. Airbus is also looking into a lower density cabin to extend the range even further to 9300 Km.

The Boeing 737 MAX is the new, fourth generation 737 and offers the greatest range in its family thanks to innovative airframe modifications and the new CFM International LEAP-1B engines. The long range version of the 737 MAX will be able to travel 7400km with a passenger capacity of 150. Like its rival, the A321LR, it will primarily be designed for long haul routes.

Niche destinations – less risk

“Previously only wide body aircraft could reach such long distances over 7200km but now narrow body aircraft can be competitive on these routes and the A321 and 737 MAX are the starters of this new era,” says Gediminas Ziemelis. But competition on existing routes is not the only purpose of these aircraft. Long distance travel today at its best is bearable but at its worst means long layovers and navigating through busy and unfamiliar airports. This is because hub to hub travel is necessary when transporting large amounts of passengers, as traditional long range wide body aircraft do. From the destination hub the passengers will then usually catch another flight if their final destination is to a secondary city. This new era of long range narrow body aircraft means that long haul flights can not only fly directly from a hub to a secondary city but also from secondary cities to other secondary cities. Because of the smaller seating capacity of these aircraft, they can also maintain profitability flying on niche routes and operating flights off peak hours.

Are Narrow Bodies the perfect solution?

Despite the clear advantages, narrow body aircraft have on some routes and the expected large-scale adoption of them there are still some potential challenges they face. Primarily the economy of scale is stacked against them. With only a small percentage increase in operating costs wide body aircraft can have a lower cost-per-seat while maintaining the payload ability for cargo revenue. But with larger capacity comes the increased risk of flying with a half empty aircraft. Narrow body aircraft however, have much less economical risk so they are in the unique position to open up new long-range routes.