Long, Thin routes: Brought to you by the 787

As my fellow blogger here at BoardingArea.com, Things In the Sky, wrote in his blog post last week, Continental has introduced a very interesting new route – Houston, TX to Auckland, New Zealand (IAH-AKL). At 7,415 miles, the distance is not very long. There are several aircraft that can fly much further, without need to refuel. What makes this route interesting is that it is not a heavily traveled route and would not justify a 747, 777, A340 or A380. They can all fly the distance, but you cannot fill them up with enough passengers to make it worth it. This is what is referred to in the airline industry as a Long, Thin Route. Long, because it is beyond the range of smaller aircraft like a 737 or even a A330. The new 737-900ER has a maximum range of just 3,756 miles and a A330 of 6,750 miles. And Thin, because it is not travelled enough to warrant a larger aircraft.

Continental Airlines.JPG

Boeing’s new 787-8 was designed to be a highly efficient aircraft, with a very long range (9,445 miles!) and a medium size, so as not to have too many seats to fill. It is perfect for these long, thin routes. It is exactly why Continental has announced this route to be the first route it will deploy its first 787-8 on.

This is also a good indicator of the future of airline travel. Efficient, modern aircraft like the 787 and the Airbus’ future A350, will allow airlines to operate several such routes. With the right aircraft, these routes can be very profitable for airlines and can become exclusive city-pairs that they can have a good hold on. Sure, one can travel from Houston to Auckland today, but it will be via another hub city. As Star Alliance hub cities, Houston and Auckland are ideal for a direct route, but are still ‘thin’ in their traffic.

There are routes out there that are actually much longer. Singapore Airline operates the longest non-stop route out there – Newark, NJ to Singapore Changi (EWR-SIN). It is 9,535 miles long. They operate a A340-500, which is the only aircraft in operation today that can fly that far. They in fact operate this in a business only configuration. I will visit their thinking behind that in another post.

The 787, especially with it’s next version – the 787-9 that has a range of 9,787 miles, will allow other airlines to probably start operating many other long, thin routes.

Routes I would like to see are:

  • Washington Dulles to Singapore (IAD-SIN) – 9,656 miles
  • Washington Dulles to Sydney (IAD-SYD) – 9,743 miles
  • Washington Dulles to Mauritius (IAD- MRU) – 9,495 miles
  • Washington Dulles to New Delhi (IAD-DEL) – Ok, only 7,506 miles, but I want a non-stop here.

(No points for guessing my home airport.)

If you have a favorite route you would like to like to see the 787 fly, do leave a comment.

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  1. I am surprised to see you suggest 2 routes which are too far for the 787-8. Only the 340-500 could cover them.

  2. Iceman & Hubert, excellent point. I forgot to mention in my post that the 787-9 will have a range of 9,787 miles. That will be able to handle the routes I mention. I will update my post to reflect the upcoming 787-9 plane and its range. Thanks for bringing the oversight to my attention.


  3. This article incorrectly identifies the A340-500 as the only aircraft capable of flying the Newark – Singapore route. This is not exactly correct. A 777-200LR actually has a longer range than an A340-500 and could cover the distance from Newark – Singapore, if operated in a business only configuration.

    The The 777-200LR is commonly understood to be the longest range commercial aircraft with a range of approximately 9,400 nautical miles in a standard configuration. Airbus describes the typical range of the A340-500 as 9,000nm.


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