What is the Fate of Small Narrow-body Aircraft?

Single-aisle or small narrow-body commercial aircraft have played an important role in commercial aviation for many decades. These airplanes have cabins measuring 13-feet or less in width and seat up to six passengers abreast.

Wide-bodied airliners like the B-747, DC-10, and L-1011 were workhorses introduced in the late 1960s with two aisles and were configured for up to 7-10 passengers in each row. The largest wide-body passenger airplane in the history, the Airbus A380, carries up to 853 passengers in a single-class configuration.

Narrow-body aircraft, however, have been extremely popular in recent years as the principal option for regional transport.

So, with the introduction of longer-range, lighter-weight and more fuel-efficient single-aisle aircraft, can the popularity of smaller aircraft like the Boeing 737-700 or the Airbus A319 be waning?

Are Narrow-Body Aircraft Facing Lower Demand?

According to the MRO Network, an aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul authority, a few smaller,10-year-old Airbus A319s have been acquired for teardown earlier than normal. These relatively new aircraft are being taken apart to provide quality spare parts well long before they would normally be scrapped.

The article suggests two reasons that may be driving the premature disassembling of these A319s. The first is the total value of quality spare parts in a market where a shortage of available quality parts exists. In these instances, the value of the parts may have become greater than the value of the whole plane.

The article’s second inference is that taking these planes out of operation prematurely suggests diminishing demand for the category of smaller narrow-body aircraft, especially from low-cost carriers.

More Efficient, Larger Single-Aisle Aircraft

While the Airbus A319 and the Boeing 737-700 are losing popularity, the demand for the single-aisle A220, A321neo, and the latest variations of the Boeing 737 have risen in demand. This shift is largely due to more seating and higher efficiency designed to increase airline profitability-per-seat and reduce the cost-per-mile-per-passenger expense.

Medium.com reports that the newer, larger narrow-body aircraft tend to be about 20% more fuel-efficient than the smaller planes they are replacing, according to the IATA. The report calls the Airbus A321neo a “gamechanger” in the aviation industry.

In addition, the A321neo is environmentally more positive. The aircraft produces a lower fuel burn, less harmful emissions, and lower noise pollution while operating. This is considered a substantial positive for environmentally minded customers.

Newer Narrow-Body Models

Airbus introduced their new extended-range version of their A321XLR at the 2019 Paris Air Show. According to a recent CNBC report, the jets will have a 4,700 nautical mile range, capable of flying passengers direct from New York to Rome. In fact, JetBlue Airways is planning to use this single-aisle aircraft for its inaugural service from the United States to London in 2021.

The larger, longer distance Boeing 737MAX (prior to the recent grounding and redesign) was the newest member of the Boeing single-aisle fleet. This aircraft was the fastest-selling passenger aircraft in history with orders for 5,000 units from over 100 customers.

Larger Narrow-bodies are the Future

The Boeing 737MAX and the A321XLR are clear examples of the near future of the airline industry. These expanded, right-sized narrow-body aircraft allow for:

  • Longer range, including North America to Europe or Tokyo to Sydney
  • Use on both short and long-haul flights
  • Connecting cities that previously required connections
  • Flexibility to accommodate rising demand without using wide-bodied aircraft for short routes
  • Accommodate more “commuter” passengers

Larger Narrow-bodies are Out-Stripping Wide Bodied Airplanes

Larger narrow-bodies are having a profound impact on the industry. Not only are these replacing small, single-aisle airplanes, but wide-bodies as well. As evidence of the shift, Airbus has announced they will discontinue production of its originally much-heralded Airbus 380 in 2021. Almost a decade ago, Boeing stopped production of its 747-400 for passenger transport as the industry realized new airplanes would be more efficient.

The narrow-body A220 or the A321neo can serve more locations while flying longer distances. The Airbus A-220 already has orders for well over 500 aircraft as of early 2019.