Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Airlines Add Smaller Jets in Busy Trans-Atlantic Market: Single-aisle planes increase competition on world’s busiest long-haul routes

The Wall Street Journal
By Doug Cameron
May 15, 2018 4:45 p.m. ET

Increasing numbers of smaller jets are making the trans-Atlantic crossing, giving consumers more travel options and airlines more flexibility in scheduling.

Low-fare carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA is using Boeing Co.’s 160-seat 737 Max in the world’s busiest long-haul market, while JetBlue Airways Corp. is eyeing its first European flights with a long-range version of the Airbus SE A321neo, which can carry around 200 passengers.

These planes are carving a niche alongside larger twin-aisle jets that members of the three global airline alliances—which have more than 75% of the world’s long-haul market—have long used to generate big profits carrying as many as 450 passengers across the Atlantic per flight.

“This will be a game changer,” said Tamur Goudarzi Pour, vice president for the Americas at Deutsche Lufthansa AG , the fifth-largest trans-Atlantic operator and a member alongside United Continental Holdings Inc. UAL 2.09% of Star Alliance, the biggest interairline association.

Capacity on flights between North America and Europe was roughly flat in the decade to 2013. Since then, capacity has climbed more than 20% as the big airlines have expanded and Norwegian, Iceland’s Wow Air and other low-cost entrants have added service on twin-aisle jets between major cities.

The smaller planes added more recently make up only about 2% of trans-Atlantic capacity but have more markedly expanded the list of cities served.

The trans-Atlantic market is highly seasonal, and the drop-off in traffic has in the past forced discounters to offer even lower fares to fill their planes in the winter. The smaller new jets are more versatile, and they can be deployed on other routes, such as to the Caribbean or Southern Europe, or rented out to other airlines during the winter.

“You can increase aircraft utilization and use the same flight crews,” said consultant James Halstead at Aviation Strategy Ltd.

Norwegian spearheaded the low-cost push across the Atlantic with Boeing 787 Dreamliners before adding 737 Max jets to link smaller cities. Norwegian started 737 flights from Scotland and Ireland to the U.S. last summer.

Some of those routes haven’t worked out. Norwegian is dropping flights from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Hartford, Conn., and Providence, R.I. Chief Executive Bjørn Kjos said Norwegian has learned at least one of the destinations on its trans-Atlantic routes needs to be a major city.

JetBlue executives said they are considering using a longer-range version of the new single-aisle Airbus A321neo to start trans-Atlantic service. JetBlue has built a big presence in New York and Boston, luring business-class passengers with its Mint cabin on domestic transcontinental flights, which offers lie-flat beds.

“It’s a market with high fares and not great service,” said Marty St. George, JetBlue’s marketing chief. The airline needs to give Airbus two years’ notice to secure the longer-range jets, so it would likely be 2020 before service could begin.

Scandinavian airline Primera Air also plans to fly Airbus A321neo planes between London and New York. For now, the airline is using a rented Boeing 757, the maker’s largest single-aisle passenger plane.

Some European airlines are establishing or overhauling subsidiaries to address the threat. Big airlines are introducing stripped-down economy fares to compete with low-cost domestic carriers on trans-Atlantic routes.

International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, the largest trans-Atlantic player through its British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus units, plans to use the Airbus A321LR to expand Aer Lingus’s U.S. network. The jets could also be used in IAG’s budget long-haul startup, called Level.

Dublin-based Aer Lingus will start receiving the planes next year. Chief Executive Stephen Kavanagh said they will be used to reach at least a dozen new U.S. destinations. “It’ll open up new markets,” Mr. Kavanagh said at an IAG investor meeting.

IAG was sufficiently worried about competition from low-cost rivals that it submitted unsolicited bids for Norwegian earlier this year, both of which were rejected. IAG bought a minority stake in Norwegian, which it views as a vehicle for further expansion to the U.S.

Europe’s biggest airline Ryanair Holdings PLC has flirted with starting service to the U.S. for a decade. Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said he’s waiting for plane prices to drop before embarking on trans-Atlantic hops.

In the meantime, Ryanair is talking to long-haul carriers to feed its flights though cooperation deals.

—Robert Wall contributed to this article.

Original article can be found here ➤


  1. What's not to like. Packed into a smaller, lighter airplane which makes flying through turbulence even more miserable, all the while sitting in nothing more than a folding camp chair with your knees hitting the seat in front of you, all to save a couple of bucks. To each his or her own.

  2. So many are 'entitled' to cheap flights.


  3. ALPA will have something to say about this.

  4. The Boeing 757, a single-aisle airliner about the size of the A321, has been plying the North Atlantic for decades for the likes of Icelandair, American, United and Delta. Until recently, the A321 was powered with hairdryers and accordingly couldn't haul the necessary amount of luggage and freight the necessary distance to compete with the 757.

    In the past decade, the 757 has become quite popular as a transatlantic vehicle for point-to-point flights (rather than through major hubs) or to smaller cities.

    The success of the out-of-production 757 is what made airlines realize the unthinkable: that a single-aisle airliner could attract traffic across the Atlantic. That it is no longer made and in need of a replacement is what caused Airbus to step up the capabilities of the A321 (like thrust, maximum weight, etc.), so that it is now, in certain versions, an excellent Cross The Pond aircraft between smaller points or from a hub to a smaller European city.