Time is money, and two airplanes are taking to the skies to give new meaning to the old cliché. The Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 are transforming airline route networks worldwide in the never-ending quest to wring more productivity out of a business trip.

“It is all about productivity, right?” says Robert W. Mann, a former American Airline executive and now president of the aviation consultancy R.W. Mann and Company. “If you can cut the flying time – including connecting time – by two or three hours, that’s meaningful productivity for the traveler. And it’s less wear and tear on them as well.”

Not all that long ago, a trip to Singapore from Los Angeles meant a stop along the way for refueling, perhaps at Tokyo Narita. No longer.  United makes the westbound trip in a fulsome 17 hours, 55 minutes. Departing LAX at 8:55 PM the 787-9 Dreamliner touches down at Changi Airport two days later at 6:50 AM. For those keeping score LAX-SIN is a formidable 8,700 miles.

United is set to launch nonstop Houston-Sydney service in January, also employing the long legs of a 787-9. At 8,596 miles it’s the second longest route in United’s repertoire.

Air Travel

In 2017 alone, Boeing says 787s have forged at least 129 new routes, most of them international and many of them unflown, period, before the advent of the Dreamliner. Norwegian’s Oslo-Las Vegas run, British Airways’ London Heathrow-Austin sojourn, or Hainan Airlines’ Boston-Shanghai flights and LATAM’s nonstop twixt Santiago and Melbourne (that’s Australia, not Florida) are but a handful of examples.

The 787 has three variants: the 787-8, -9, and -10. Each is optimized for a specific mission. The -8 was the first Dreamliner to hit the market. It can be configured to carry 242 passengers in two classes and has a range of 8,464 miles. The stretched -9 variant can be rigged to fly 290 passengers in two classes at distances up to 8,786 miles. Finally, the 787-10 can transport 330 passengers a more modest 7,400 miles. The trade-off here is payload, in this case passengers. The more passengers on board, the more weight. Thus the more limited range.

When booking a flight for their travelers, corporate travel buyers would do well to pay attention to the suffixes.

The 787-8 is the chosen instrument of British Airways on so-called ‘long thin’ routes, runs that don’t necessarily warrant daily service but can thrive employing 787-8s on a less-than-daily frequency. This past year alone BA has lofted Dreamliners to New Orleans, Oakland and Fort Lauderdale. Come May it will be Nashville’s turn. The self-proclaimed capital of country music gets five weekly nonstops to London Heathrow.

If you and your traveler can tweak the arrivals and departure dates, then Norwegian Airlines has a deal for you. Tuesdays and Thursdays it offers 787 service from Oakland to Copenhagen. Norwegian offers both Premium and Economy passage.

Enter Airbus 
Boeing isn’t the only airframe manufacturer in the long-haul market. Airbus offers a worthy competitor to Boeing’s high-flying 787s – the A350-900. It comes in two types: the A350-900 XWB typically can carry anywhere from 325 to 440 passengers and sports a range of up to 9,321 miles, depending on how many seats it’s fitted with.  And later this year, the A350-900 ULR (Ultra Long Range) will debut on the much-anticipated return of Singapore Airlines’ nonstop routes from Changi to both Los Angeles and New York.

The 900 ULR carries more fuel and packs a higher maximum takeoff weight. This, says Airbus, means it can fly a marathon trip of up to 20 hours. That range puts a whale of a lot of terra firma within nonstop range of the ULR.

In the meantime, there’s a good chance you’ll be seeing lots of A350-900s on a tarmac near you in 2018. As of Oct. 31, there were 122 in operation globally; this all coming from an order book of 681 aircraft.

Singapore Air has launched its A350-900 service on a number of nonstop destinations from Singapore, including San Francisco, Melbourne, Johannesburg and Manchester.

Delta is a major proponent of the A350 behemoth. It began flying the aircraft on the Detroit-Tokyo Narita run in October 2017 and on select flights from Detroit to Seoul Incheon in November 2017. Detroit-Beijing is ready to come on line Jan. 17, Detroit-Amsterdam and Atlanta-Seoul Incheon March 24, and Detroit-Shanghai on April 19.

Cathay Pacific started flying its A350-900s thrice weekly from Hong Kong to San Francisco in late October 2017. It started its long-haul A350 flights to North America with Vancouver flights in late March of 2017.

Part and parcel of productivity is mitigating the punishment exacted on a business traveler’s body on one of these 17-hour-plus odysseys. Deep-down jet lag renders even the most seasoned traveler fuzzy headed, headachy, dry-eyed and exhausted. That’s because the cabin air is so bereft of moisture – that and the fact the cabin is pressurized to 8,000 feet.

Most aircraft cabins are bone dry, but that’s not the case with the 787. While cabin moisture is roughly two percent in traditional largely-aluminum aircraft, it’s six to seven percent in the 787. That’s because most airliners are pressurized via ‘bleed air’ from the engines. The 787 doesn’t employ bleed air that way. The seven-eight’s set up makes a real difference. You can feel it.

Conventional jets ply the heavens with their cabins pressurized at 8,000 feet, which is just at the threshold where altitude can start having ill effects on the body.  However the 787 fuselage is pressurized to a more comfortable 5,700 feet, depending on the actual altitude of the flight. That makes a tremendous difference for passengers.

Then there’s the noise. Frequent business fliers learned long ago to live with the eternal ambient whooshing sound a jet makes. It’s far less pronounced in a 787. The fuselage is composed largely of composite material, not aluminum. That means the exterior of the aircraft is seamless – no whoosh-inducing rivets or tiny bumps to disrupt the airflow. This can have its drawbacks; conversations are more easily overheard.

A number of years ago Cathy Pacific promised fliers that they’d “arrive in better shape.” It was a good idea; isometric exercises, hydration, eyeshades and such helped. But Cathay (and the rest of the industry’s aircraft as well) just didn’t possess the tools to make it happen. With the 787 and A350 that’s changed. It’s no wonder frequent business travelers love these aircraft.

The Productivity Connection
Dreamliners and A350s won’t be flying to the remote reaches of Ukraine, but smaller aircraft will. Hubs are all about connectivity, flowing fliers from major cities such as New York to smaller or underserved destinations like Zaporizhzia. Ring a bell? Perhaps not, but it came on Turkish Airlines’ grid late in 2017 via Istanbul, Turkish Airlines’ expansive hub.

Work is progressing on a new airport in Istanbul that’s touted as the planet’s largest commercial airport, one capable, eventually, of handling some 150-million passengers per annum. It’s opening is eagerly set for this year.

Not long thereafter in 2019, plans are to debut Beijing’s dramatic new airport at Daxing. Initially, it will be able to accommodate 45 million fliers a year, with the eventual capability of 100-million souls. They’ll be connected with the city itself via high-speed rail as well as a major new expressway.

That 100-milion mark will put Beijing’s new megahub on par with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, which just unveiled plans to spend $6 billion to upgrade the field.

The 20-year capital improvement venture will see a sixth runway, a new concourse and a 400-room hotel replete with a “travel plaza.” ATL General Manager Miguel Southwell says, “Not only will these projects be transformational for the airport, they will enable the needed expansion to accommodate growing demand.”

In Europe, the Dutch are busy laying the groundwork for a major new terminal at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Slated for debut in 2023, it will allow AMS to handle some 14-million additional passengers each year. The new facility will be an expansion of Schiphol’s existing terminal, and will adjoin Departure Hall 1 and Arrival Hall 1. That means the airport keeps its “one terminal” concept.

As the Turks, the Chinese, the Dutch and the Americans build, the British seem bollixed once again about the timing of a critical upgrade to what is arguably Europe’s most important airport, London Heathrow. Even though the government has given the green light for a much needed and long-awaited third runway at LHR the planning process for the environmentally-contentious strip probably won’t be over until 2020.

The Airports Commission decided against a plan to build out London Gatwick, this even though LGW recently processed a record number of passengers.

Meanwhile, over on the Continent, as of this writing Berlin’s new Brandenburg Airport languishes. It was to have opened in 2011. No date has been yet set to open the star-struck aerodrome.

By the Numbers 
The squadrons of new long-haul jets, and the airports that handle them will sorely be needed in the coming couple of decades. A recent forecast by the International Air Transport Association projects by 2036 passenger traffic will almost double. IATA believes some 7.8 billion fliers will travel each year, nearly double the 4-billion who took wing in 2017.

New airports, new terminals and more runways aren’t the only solutions to the challenges IATA foresees. In Europe especially the environment is Issue Number One. “Increasing demand will bring significant infrastructure challenge,” says Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and chief operating officer. “The solution,” he contends, “does not lie in more complex processes or building bigger and bigger airports but in harnessing the power of new technology to move activity off-airport, streamline processes and improve efficiency.” De Juniac goes on to say that partnerships between industry, governments and organizations such as IATA are the key to “sustainable growth.”

This sustainable ascent is especially important in the five fastest-growing markets over the coming twenty years. Here’s a snapshot:
• China will handle 921 million new passengers per year for a total of 1.5 billion
• The United States is projected to accommodate 401 million new fliers each year for a total of 1.1 billion
• India should process 337 million additional passengers each year for a total of 478 million
• Indonesia is forecast to handle 235 million new fliers per year for a total of 355 million
• Turkey is expected to take care of 119 million additional passengers a year for a total of 196 million.

It’s hard to say precisely how many of these passengers will make their journey via 787s and A350s, but Boeing’s latest Current Market Outlook is instructive. The bottom line: “More and more airlines are shifting to small and medium/large airplanes like the 787.”

With 41,000 new airliners set to take wing over the ensuing two decades, 5,050 of them are in the “small widebody” category. Another 3,160 aircraft are in the “medium/large widebody” category. Taken together this is 787 and A350 territory.If you haven’t flown one of these productivity-enhancing superjet beauties yet, just wait a while. Your longest hauls await in the wings.