WE ARE LIVING IN very interesting times and are in a position to see and experience major changes happening in the world of aviation. The changes are essentially improvements, which happened incrementally, but if you see a decade or a quarter of a century, the changes are huge. Aviation, both, the civil and military arena has undergone a sea change in the last half a century. The shape, size and capability in terms of altitude, speed and weight of airplanes has reached unbelievable proportions.
These developments have happened primarily because the sheer number of people travelling has exploded. Due to increase in demand, technology has been driven to develop, lighter, stronger and more durable materials, fuel efficient engines, fly-by-wire controls, autonomous navigation systems, and satellite communications systems. The explosion in microprocessor technology has brought in avionics and equipment of unbelievable capability and reliability.
There has been an increase in the number of people travelling because the average person has a larger disposable income and the cost of tickets has been steadily falling; added to this, the entry of the Low Cost Carriers that bank on a “no-frills” and higher load factor travel model - have together created an astronomical demand for airliners. This brings us to the fundamentals of what kind of airliners are needed to service this demand. It will become amply clear that there are three types of stage lengths, short, medium and long routes and three types of traffic densities. To this, one can now add yet another classification, which exists in small numbers only and that is the ULTRA LONG route. To effectively service these diverse requirements, the operators would necessarily need four different types of airliners. Regional Jets are for small capacity and short to medium distance routes, typically in the order of 110 to 120 passengers, over a stage length of up to 200 nautical miles. The medium-sized, single-aisle (narrow-body) airliners with a capacity for 150 to 180 passengers are for medium distance routes up to 1,000 nautical miles. The twinaisle (wide-body) airliners 220-350 passengers for long routes up to 4,000 nautical miles and finally, the twin-aisle airliners capable of flying the ultra long routes of around 8,000 nautical miles, with flying time in the order of 15 to 18 hours.
The choice of airliners to be used on a particular route depends on various factors as under:
Passenger traffic density on the route.
Capability of the aerodrome to handle the airplane.
Frequency of the flights.
Essentially, one could use any airliner on any route, whatever the stage length, depending upon the passenger load factor. No operator would like to operate the airplane half-empty. So, for all practical purposes, it is the load factor that determines the choice of the type of airplane used. However, there are some technical constraints that come into the picture. The technical life of the airliners, in addition to flying hours, is also governed by cycles. So if one uses an ultra-long haul airplane on short sectors, one may run out of airplane life based on cycles.
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