Peter Harbison is Executive Chairman of CAPA - Centre for Aviation, which is currently the world’s largest publisher of B2B commercial aviation information and analysis, covering the global airport, air navigation services and airline industries. Peter established CAPA in 1990, and over the past 30 years has conducted more than 200 consultancy projects and authored and/or edited numerous reports on the aviation industry. We asked Peter how new advancements in the aviation industry, particularly in the area of long-haul flights, will affect the future of travel and specifically the behaviours involved with long-distance travel.
“We still have a lot to learn about passenger behaviour and preferences on ultra-long-haul flights because they are constantly changing. While aircraft speeds are pretty much the same on these types of flights, it’s hard to generate significant advantages over one-stops. Indeed, many people say they prefer a short stop in, for example, a 19-hour journey, particularly if they are in the back of the aircraft.
“Of course price is always a factor in the decision making process, however SME and business travellers tend to be less price sensitive, so it’s important to ensure they receive a different experience. Airlines operating these ultra-long services need to pay much greater attention to passenger comfort and to differentiating the overall experience in various ways, particularly when it comes to corporate travellers.
“In terms of corporate travel trends, we also need to factor in the fast-growing role of long-haul narrow body aircraft that can fly eight hours or more. These smaller aircraft contain only 200-odd seats and constitute very low seat costs. In order to achieve this in the past you would need big wide-body aircraft with anything from 300 to 600 seats. This resulted in a need for big city pairs to fly between routes and supply lots of connecting ‘feed’ traffic. These new aircraft can link small city pairs with good frequency. There are over 2000 of these narrow body aircraft due to be delivered in this region over the next five to eight years, including Jetstar’s cache of eighteen A320neoLR long-range narrow-bodied aircraft.”
What are your thoughts on the launch of Qantas’ London-Perth services?
“As far as aircraft technology stands, there are only a handful of routes where major gateways can be connected with today’s ultra-long operations. That’s important, because those services can concentrate on higher value passengers to whom price is less of an issue and convenience counts for more.
The Singapore-New York route operated by Singapore Airlines struggled in the past because of older equipment and ceased in 2013. So it will be interesting to see how their revived 19-hour service works. It’s no coincidence either that there is a lack of economy seating on the Singapore Airlines’ A350s, just Business and Premium Economy. You can do that when you have substantial business centres at each end.
In Australia, Qantas’ Perth-to-London 787-9 Dreamliner non-stop 17-hour service has its own unique marketing leverage, with the novelty of connecting the two antipodean countries for the first time. But Sydney-New York or even Sydney-London routes would be able to drive much higher yields, which is the reason why CEO Alan Joyce is challenging the original equipment manufacturers to deliver that capability.”