Why Smaller Airplanes Are So Much Better Than Bigger Airplanes

The Airbus A380 is an amazingly ginormous airplane that can fit over 600 people inside. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner tops out at around 300. But bigger isn’t better.


The smaller Boeing 787 Dreamliner is used more by airlines across the world. In fact, the Boeing has 1,200 orders for the 787 Dreamliner, while Airbus has scaled back to only making one A380 a month. Why is that? Wendover Productions explains the economics of long haul flights and how different philosophies from Airbus and Boeing led to such different airplanes.

Airbus built the A380 because it believes in the hub and spoke concept of flying. That is, airlines will have smaller cities connect to main hub cities before flying to other large cities. So if you want to go from Hartford to London, you’ll have to go through New York first. The A380 is a plane built to support the main leg of that route (the New York to London flight), piling in as many people as possible onto a long haul flight. The thinking is a popular flight like that has enough demand to fill a giant plane.

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, on the other hand, is built under the idea of a point to point system. Which is exactly like it sounds, if you want to go from Hartford to London, you just go from Hartford to London. Even though that route is less popular than New York to London, airlines are able to fly it because they have a more nimble and fuel efficient plane in the 787 Dreamliner. The 787 has a fuel efficiency of 102 miles-per-gallon per seat, while the A380 can only manage 74mpg per seat. Those savings turned out to matter more than having more passengers.



I would kinda disagree with the thesis here. While I think the 787 is an engineering marvel and massive advancement for aviation, I think it’s nothing more than a trend of making smaller more efficient airplanes at the cost of passenger comfort and limited choice. The real plane they should be comparing here is not the a380, which I think is an aviation miracle albeit not a great airplane for several reasons already covered here, the plane they should be comparing to is the 747.

The real loss in our time is the venerable 747. Back in the 90's Boeing released the 777 which was a replacement for the 747. The 777 is an awesome plane and really a top notch performer in the industry. The 787 by contrast is a sad state of the continuing trend of cramming more people into smaller planes.

Take for example the propositions by many airlines that the a321 and the B737-max are going to placed into trans Atlantic service. This will be the final straw for me. I will NOT get on a plane that small going over 4000 miles and I work in the industry and can fly for free. It’s not worth whatever is over in Europe to endure the pain of being crammed into a small plane for 6 hrs or more. The 787 reflects this mentality in the industry and will only serve to make us get used to smaller more awful planes.

Furthermore when you take away a 747 from a route and replace it with a 787 you lower the number of available seats. The laws of supply and demand then kick in and guess what, fewer seats = higher costs. Airlines are not going to run two 787's on a route that a single 747 used to run. They’re just going to offer fewer seats and charge a premium for them. I’ve watched it happen year after year as they reduce flight availability everywhere.

The drive of efficiency in the airline industry has absolutely ruined it and the 787 does not help this.