With the rescue flights that crisscross the world and the passengers eager to arrive where they go as soon as possible, will we see the end of the journey from hub to hub? Has this current aviation crisis marked the decline of the current aviation model we know today? A journalist from Simple Flying gives his opinion.
Has the Sunrise project ever happened?
A very interesting result of the current aviation crisis is the phenomenon of rescue flights. We see strange airlines in places far from their normal routes, like Lufthansa flies to New Zealand and Virgin Australia flying in Paris. These flights are almost the equivalent of what Qantas wanted to achieve with its “Project Sunset”.
Qantas flew directly from London to Sydney with a Boeing 787, but this flight carried a limited number of press passengers and did not really work with real paying customers. These rescue flights, on the other hand, and other long-haul flights such as the recent Air Tahiti Nui flight from Nonstop Papeete in Paris, infer that there is a commercial market for direct flights.
Therefore, if airlines already have the capacity to manage these flights, will this mean the end of our current aviation business model? If the opportunity arises, will passengers now fly directly and completely skip the hubs?
Do passengers want to fly directly?
One upward trend we have seen in recent decades is the changing preference for passengers to fly as directly as possible.
The first major sign of this was when Boeing developed the 787 and Airbus built the A380. Boeing decided that the future would be on more direct and smaller routes rather than hub-to-hub travel. This was reflected in their design choices and the popularity of the Boeing product, the smaller 787 proved to be much more popular despite the fact that the A380 could fly many more passengers.
This has led to an increase in new routes connecting directly to smaller destinations (such as Barcelona to Boston, instead of via New York), offering passengers a faster way to get to where they need to go.
This is particularly true for long-haul international routes such as Australia to London. Qantas reported a 94% load factor on its direct Perth-London link, despite the significant price differences compared to competitors (Qantas charges 25% more for the journey) which transit through hub airports.
Overall, direct flights are faster and more convenient for passengers (although more expensive).
But what has changed in recent months that could tip the scales in favor of direct flights?
Less risk of traveling directly
We must also take into account the health aspect. Make no mistake that passengers traveling from Australia to Europe are reluctant to pass through hub airports (especially those in Asia) due to recent epidemics.
Some of these hub airports have even recently closed to transient passengers, forcing them to choose the most direct route anyway.
If passengers had a choice (and we can see on the rescue flights that they are), they will always choose to go directly. The obvious conclusion is that passengers will demand direct routes around the world, avoiding as many hubs as possible.
Airlines like Emirates and Etihad, which earn their money by traveling long-haul routes via their hubs, could be wary of these changing market forces. Emirates has already taken steps to slowly convert to a non-A380 fleet (not for many years, however), but since their hub is really quite distant and somewhat skippable, it remains to be seen what they can do.
What do you think? Do you prefer to fly directly and jump from hubs? Let us know in the comments.