Narrow-body aircraft capable of flying further will be a secret weapon in the airline industry armory as they look towards their recovery plans.

Offering lower operating costs and fewer seats, the ability to serve medium-distance routes with little demand profitably is possible and extremely beneficial during these times of suppressed demand. Aircraft such as the Airbus A321LR with a range of up to 4,000 nautical miles and the long-range Boeing 737 MAX will be extremely useful for airlines as demand slowly returns. Even though demand is currently low, there are still medium-distance routes with smaller demand viable for airlines to serve, and these aircraft will be vital to doing so in a profitable manner.

Appetite for travel to a different continent is emerging

A GlobalData poll* revealed that 36% of consumers are willing to travel internationally to a different continent in the next 12 months, six percentage points higher than those not currently willing to travel. Although low, it is evident consumers are looking to travel in the coming year and are open to visiting countries that are not short haul.

With the airline industry recovery dependent on the success of individual countries’ vaccine rollout, it could mean travellers look towards further afield destinations. This is why long-range narrow-body aircraft will be such a vital component in meeting any sudden increases in demand. With fewer seats to fill, airlines now have the possibility to expand their route networks to better meet changes in consumer demand to fly further.

Lower operating costs meet growing financial concerns

The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified consumer concerns around personal finances. GlobalData’s latest COVID-19 Recovery Survey (2–6 December 2020) showed that globally, a staggering 87% of respondents were ‘extremely’, ‘quite’, or ‘slightly’ concerned about their personal financial position.

The lower operating costs of these next-generation jets will mean airlines have a lower cost base and ticket prices can be lowered accordingly while still generating a profit. This meets the increased need for lower airfares while ensuring airlines make a sufficient return.

Some travellers may be hesitant to spend five-plus hours on a small aircraft. However, most airlines operating these aircraft on medium-haul routes such as JetBlue and Aer Lingus have spacious configurations with lie-flat business seats and entertainment options.

Larger aircraft with significantly higher operating costs have forced airlines to cut longer routes in recent times. However, the introduction of new narrow-body aircraft means it is now possible to fly these routes with fewer seats to fill. Airlines with these aircraft could be more successful in capturing long-haul travel demand as it returns. This will contribute to recovery and help to limit the ongoing impact of Covid-19.

*Global Data Poll of 1,039 respondents, November 2020 to February 2021.

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