Long-haul cost differences

Aircraft costs

When considering going long-haul with the new A320neo series or 737 MAX, it’s important to understand the overall cost level but also how this is built up. In Figure 1, we have collected the different cost parts of the direct operating costs (DOC) for the Airbus A320neo series versus the costs of the next larger wide-body in the Airbus family, the A330-800.

We could have picked the Boeing 737 MAX and compared with the 787-8 and the picture would be similar. Because we have done several articles around the Norwegian Air Shuttle’s 787 and MAX 8 use for long haul, it was time to do an example with the Airbus family.

The graph describes the Direct Operating Cost components for a long haul sector of 3,000nm, the distance between London and New York.

Figure 1. Direct Operating Costs for A320series . Source: Leeham Co.

 Normalized cabins

To make the different aircraft models comparable, we equipped all with our Normalized cabins. This means that a two-class A330-800 with a two-class 250 seat cabin compares with a 163 seat two-class cabin for the A321LR. This is below the normal 206-seat A321LR cabin that Airbus use in its presentations, but that cabin hasn’t lie flat business seats.

The standard single-aisle cabins also have a low percentage of business seat compared to economy seats. To make a fair comparison, all aircraft shall have cabins with the same seat types and the same relations between business and economy seats.

Cost differences

Figure 1 shows that on a 3,000nm sector (which is common stage length for a twin-aisle aircraft), the fuel costs per seat mile on an A321LR are lower than an A330-800. This is because the A330 is built for up to 7,000nm long mission. It carries volumes and structure which are not used at 3,000nm.

The crew costs are lower for the A321LR. The major factor here is the lower Flight crew salaries for an A321 compared with an A330.

The Navigation and Landing costs per seat mile are similar. The maintenance costs are a bit higher on the twin-aisle. This is the engines, which have about 35% higher maintenance costs per seat mile than the single-aisle engines.

Finally, the capital costs are considerably higher for the single-aisle aircraft. Calculated with the same discounts and capital costs, the capital cost for the A321LR is 40% higher than the A330-800 per seat mile.

In the end, the total Direct Operating Costs for an A330-800 and the A321LR are similar. The major reason is the capital costs. The rest of the costs are lower. It’s a bit strange the A321LR, which is a less capable aircraft than the A330, should have a capital cost per seat which is so much higher than the A330-800.

It’s probably because the A321neo series is a popular aircraft, whereas the A330-800 is not.

With normalized cabins, the A320neo and A319 neo cannot compete. The way to make them cost competitive on long haul is to fly them with a cabin with less comfort than the A330.

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