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The Logistics Of A Boeing 747 Private Jet




Private jets come in all shapes and sizes. While smaller aircraft, such as those from Cessna, Bombardier or Embraer, are more common, variants of commercial jets are also used. As there has not yet been a private A380, the 747 is the largest. It has seen many conversions for private use, with both government and private operators. Let’s explore further.

747-8 BBJ
The 747-8 is available as a private jet through Boeing’s BBJ program. Photo: Boeing

The 747 as a large private jet

Boeing offers its full range of commercial aircraft for private use through its Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) program. The 737 has been by far the most ordered of these, with more than 190 aircraft ordered, according to Boeing data. But the widebody 767, 777, 787, and 747 have all been offered as well.

BBJ series
Boeing makes most of its jets available for private use through the BBJ program. Photo: Boeing

Interior designs

As with any private jet, layout and designs are customized for all private aircraft. Boeing offers the aircraft empty, and interiors are designed and installed by other companies.

The 747’s upper deck has been used as a feature by many airlines. Bars and lounges were common in the early days, and later many have continued with premium cabins. In private use, this can provide a useful separate space away from the main deck.

Government aircraft might use this for staff or secure facilities like communications. In individual use, it might feature a private residential space for owners or VVIPs.

Qantas 747 Captain Cook Lounge
The Captain Cook Lounge onboard Qantas’s 747s is a great example of an upper deck lounge development. Photo: Qantas Newsroom

There have also been specialized developments. One of the most interesting is from Greenpoint Technologies. It has worked on 747-8s refits and has developed an innovative ‘Aeroloft’ modular addition. This provides additional private suite-style berths in an elevated additional cabin at the rear of the fuselage.


Greenpoint Aeroloft
The Greenpoint Aeroloft was installed on a 747-8 BBJ. Photo: Boeing

Take a look at the video below from Greenpoint to see how this works:

Extended range

The 747-8 already has one of the highest ranges of any Boeing aircraft, although the smaller 777-200LR exceeds it, as will the standard 777-8 when it enters service. In a private configuration, with fewer fittings and carrying fewer passengers, its already substantial range can be increased.


Boeing quotes the private version of the 747-8 as having a range of 16,537 km (assuming a passenger capacity of 100). This is up from 14,320 km for the standard 747-8.

At least two aircraft took this even further. The VC-25A currently used for Air Force One adds the ability to refuel in the air. This has never been used in active service, however, and will not be a feature of the forthcoming VC-25B aircraft.

Air Force One
Is Air Force One the only private jet that can refuel in the air? Photo: Getty Images

Orders for the 747-400 and 747-8

It is hard to determine exactly how many VIP configured, or private 747s have been, or are, in service. Much of this is not published, and many of the earlier 747s that ended up in private use were purchased second-hand or managed through leasing companies.


As a guide, Boeing stated in 2007 (as published in FlightGlobal) that 22 VIP-configured 747s were in service. And at that time, it also had orders for four new 747-8 VIP aircraft.

According to Boeing data, there have now been 10 orders for a 747-8 BBJ. All these orders were placed between 2006 and 2011.

Government and head of state aircraft

The most common use of VIP or private configured 747 is for head of state travel, or other government use. Boeing has seen strong success in this market, with several countries bringing in 747s from the 747-100/200 generation.


The success of this has been a major obstacle for the A380. Airbus originally proposed the A380 as a private option (under Airbus Corporate Jets). But with Boeing well established with the limited number of customers and the 747-8 also on offer as an upgrade, this was a difficult sell.

The A380 also suffered in commercial use due to its size and airport restrictions – this would be an even bigger limitation in flexible private use. It did receive one order, but it was never delivered.

Airbus A380 Getty
The A380 was also proposed for private use. But Boeing already dominated the market. Photo: Getty Images

Countries that currently have used the 747 in their VIP or head of state fleets include the US, Bahrain, Brunei, Korea, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE.

Japan Air Force 747
Japan used the 747 from 1991 to 2019. Photo: Bene Riobó via Wikimedia

Japan also operated two 747-400s until March 2019. Two 777-300ERs have now replaced them. And Yemen operated a 747SP until it was damaged in 2015.

Several other countries use 747s jointly with state airlines. These can be converted to VIP use as needed but are not dedicated aircraft. China and India have done this for many years but have both now ordered dedicated aircraft (the 747-8 for China and the 777 for India).

747s as Air Force One

Of course, the most well-known use of government use is the United States Air Force-operated 747s. These are currently two heavily modified 747-200 aircraft (designated VC-25A), and have been in service since 1990, and will soon be replaced by two new 747-8 aircraft. These were chosen under President Trump and, to reduce the cost, aircraft originally ordered by Transaero are being modified rather than the planes being newly built.

Air Force One
Air Force One is the most recognizable large VIP jet around. Photo: Getty Images

Unlike many other countries, the interior details are well known and photographed. However, much of the defense and technical modifications, of course, remain classified.

Trump Air Force One
Air Force One has residential and office space for the President. Photo: Getty Images

The main deck offers residence and office space for the President, following by office and meeting space for staff and a large conference room. Behind all this are separate cabins for guests and the traveling media.

Air Force One interior
And plenty of working room – as will most VIP 747s. Photo: Getty Images

Private owners

There have been only a few private owners of a 747. Even for large companies, it is just too big and would rarely justify the operating costs. For corporate use, smaller aircraft, taking much smaller groups, are more practical. Private individuals likewise do not need the space, but as the largest private jet, it definitely makes an impression!

Not surprisingly, many private owners prefer to remain unnamed. A few examples have been publicized, though.

Saudi Arabian Prince Al Waleed’s 747

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud is a member of the Saudi royal family but privately owns and operates aircraft. He purchased his 747 in 2003 for $485 million (for comparison, the US VC25A aircraft cost $325 million each).

It is lavishly furnished with thick carpets, plenty of gold trim decoration, and even a large chandelier. There are luxurious bedrooms and bathrooms, a dining area for 14 people, extensive lounge areas, and a large throne.

The Prince planned to go further, with an order for a private A380 in 2007. This was designed but never developed, and the aircraft transferred to airline use. This would have been one incredible private jet, though.

The three lift-connected decks (it extended into the cargo hold) packed in a car garage, Turkish bath, relaxation room with ground views projected on the floor, dining, and prayer rooms. And the upper deck would have five private en-suite apartments for guests.

747-8 equipped by Cabinet Alberto Pinto

There have been reports of the completion of a private 747-8 order from a Middle Eastern business. French firm Cabinet Alberto Pinto designed the interior. The extensive refit took four years and was completed in 2015.

It features a master bedroom in the aircraft’s nose (as the Air Force One 747s also do). There are several more private suites on the main deck, as well as office and lounge space. The interiors were designed with simplicity in mind.

The upper deck is used for a living room area, with bookshelves, television, and a children’s play area.

Alberto Pinto 747-8
The interior of the Alberto Pinto 747-8 takes luxury to a whole new level. Photo: Alberto Pinto

In an interview with Altitudes Magazine, lead designer Pickardt explained the final result. He said:

“The owner gave us carte blanche. He wasn’t looking for anything outrageously luxurious, with gold and diamonds. On the contrary he called for some simplicity, which in the end is indeed the true luxury. One can easily recognize a strong French touch, a tribute to French Art deco and to our most famous saddle makers. We used only noble materials, all of the best quality available of course, such as wood, (African Wakapou and Sycamore), stone, wool and silk fabrics, natural leathers.”

Certainly proud of the design, he concludes beautifully, with:

“Such a project is a dream come true that happens only once or twice in a designer’s lifetime. In a way, this is a landmark in aviation history. Officials from the Boeing Company who visited the aircraft said that it may be one of the most beautiful large aircraft ever made!”

Alberto Pinto 747-8
“Such a project is a dream come true.” Photo: Alberto Pinto

Where next for the 747?

The future for large private aircraft is interesting. There is a strong decline in the popularity and use of large four-engine jets. And of course, the production of new aircraft is ending. Boeing has confirmed the end of 747 production, with the last two cargo 747-8s now ordered. But with increasing retirements from airline fleets, there could be more chance of secondhand developments.

Boeing 747 A380
Airlines are turning away from quadjets – could this be an opportunity for private use? Photo: Getty Images

Twin-engine VIP transport

The last 747-8 new build business jet order was in 2011, and there won’t be anymore now. Likewise, with the A380 out of production, with no private versions ever delivered (although one was ordered).

Twin-engine widebodies are now taking over. According to Boeing data, 14 787s and six 777s have now been ordered as business jets. And Boeing has released some exciting plans for a 777X BBJ.

We have recently seen Germany take on two new A350 aircraft as state aircraft (to replace its A340). And India has introduced the 777 as its first dedicated VIP aircraft.

The Mexican government opted to go with the Boeing 787 for its new VIP transport. However, the current president believes this is an unnecessary luxury, and has put it up for sale. As yet, it hasn’t found a buyer.

Office Mexico Boeing 787 Getty
The office onboard the Mexican government’s Boeing 787-8. Photo: Getty Images

And the 767 has long been a popular choice. For those wanting the size and range of a widebody, it offers a great compromise. Simple Flying discussed this with Comlux Aviation CEO Andrea Zanetto. Comlux operates private aircraft of all sizes, and Zanetto thinks the 767 offers a lot. He said:

“There is definitely no aircraft like this in commercial operation. So there is not even competition. So it’s pretty amazing now. I think that the 767 is the aircraft that has the perfect combination of size and the number of people that you can transfer through long-range operations.

“No business jet can do 15 hours of flying. Therefore, you can transport 15 people with very good comfort. They will be arriving rested and with a great experience of flying. I would say that this is a good combination.”

Growing second-hand market

With more large aircraft retiring in 2020 and 2021, increasing second-hand availability could affect the market. This is likely to be more of a factor in the A380 market, especially as its re-sale value has now dropped 50%.

Retiring 747-400 aircraft are already nearing the end of service and are unlikely to see further VIP use. 747-8 aircraft are a possibility, but there are not many of them. We did see this with the new order from the US Air Force for replacement Air Force One aircraft.

The Trump administration selected the 747-8 but chose to acquire and refit two former Transaero 747-8 aircraft rather than build new ones. These had not entered service, though, before Transaero ceased operations.

With early retirements from several airlines, the A380 has potential for more private use. Photo: Getty Images

There were some moves before the pandemic with A380 re-use, but no confirmed orders. In 2017, Geneva-based aircraft Sparfell & Partners started marketing four A380s configured as head of state aircraft, but conversions never happened. If we see more of this post-COVID, the A380 will be in a better position for conversion.

The 747 is a great aircraft, popular with airlines and private use – even if only limited. There are other private uses we have not covered here – feel free to discuss any you know in the comments. Also, do you think any more will find second-hand use?  

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SAS Was The First Airline To Operate A Polar Route



Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) came into existence shortly after the Second World War, following a merger between airlines from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Eight years after commencing operations, it had made history by becoming the world’s first airline to operate scheduled flights that traversed the polar ice caps. Let’s examine these services further.

SAS Douglas DC-6
SAS flew piston-engined Douglas DC-6s on its first polar route. Photo: SAS via Wikimedia Commons

Testing since 1952

1954 heralded SAS’s (and indeed the world’s) first-ever scheduled commercial air route over the polar ice cap regions. With these areas begin remote and uninhabited, such routes carried an additional element of danger in terms of the plane’s (and its occupants’) rescue prospects in the event of a crash. As such, SAS began tests two years beforehand, in 1952.

According to Scandinavian Traveler, SAS operated its first experimental transpolar flight from Los Angeles to Copenhagen in November that year. A Douglas DC-6B named Arild Viking, made the trip in 28 hours, with stops in Edmonton (Canada) and Thule (Greenland).

22 dignitaries were onboard as well as SAS’s chief polar navigator Einar Sverre Pedersen. Tests continued, including transpolar journeys from Los Angeles to Stockholm and Oslo to Tokyo, while SAS awaited clearance to begin its commercial transpolar services.

SAS Douglas DC-6B
SAS made its first experimental transpolar flight in 1952. Photo: SAS Museet via Flickr

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Service begins

US authorities finally granted SAS, with the help of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the rights to carry paying passengers on its California-bound transpolar routes in 1954. Just under two years after the first experimental flight across the pole regions, on November 15th, 1954, SAS’s (and the world’s) first revenue-earning transpolar flight departed.

This route also connected Copenhagen and Los Angeles, although its stops were different to the test flights. It touched down en route in Kangerlussuaq (Greenland) and Winnipeg (Canada), as seen in the map below. It proved a success, with the route’s popularity prompting SAS to increase its frequency to three times a week after just two years, in 1956.

A wide variety of passengers used this route. On the one hand, it was popular among film stars traveling to and from Hollywood, gaining SAS further publicity. American tourists also used the route as a gateway to Europe, as SAS allowed a free onward connection. Today, SAS continues to serve Los Angeles International Airport from Copenhagen and Oslo.

SAS Polar Map
SAS’s first transpolar service stopped in Kangerlussuaq and Winnipeg. Image: GCMap

Also advantageous for transpacific flights

The advent of polar routes also proved a game-changer for transpacific flights between Asia and North America. This, along with relaxations regarding the use of Russian airspace, removed the need for such journeys to make a stop in Anchorage, Alaska along the way.

Boeing explains that the use of direct polar routes on transpacific services benefits both airlines and their passengers. Regarding the establishment of four cross-polar routes in 1998, the US-based manufacturing juggernaut states that:

Flight times are reduced by an hour or more, and fuel requirements are reduced by several thousand pounds. The savings are even greater if a polar route eliminates the need for an intermediate stop. The combined effect of these savings is reduced operating costs, lower emissions levels, and more competitive fares for passengers.”

Did you know about SAS being the first airline to operate a polar route? Perhaps you’ve even flown on such a service yourself? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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Canada Not Ready To Relax India Flight Ban



Canada is not planning to relax its India travel ban any time soon. The Canadian government is likely to announce another one-month extension on the direct flight ban, forcing travelers to take complicated routes instead. Let’s find out more about this decision.

Air Canada 787-9
Direct flights between India and Canada remain suspended since late April, leaving thousands stranded. Photo: Air Canada


According to the Hindustan Times, Canada will announce another one-month extension to the ban on direct flights from India. The ban was originally set to expire today, on 21st June, but the government has opted to extend it for at least one more month, until 21st July. The decision comes as the number of cases of the Delta variant, first seen in India, continues to grow in Ontario.

Air India Boeing 777-300ER
Air India has also suspended all of its Canadian operations as the ban remains in place. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

While the health situation in India has changed drastically since the ban was put in place on 22nd April, the risk remains high. Canadian authorities consider the Delta variant to be 150% more transmissible than the original strain, pushing provinces to demand a continuation of the direct flight ban. For now, don’t expect to see direct flights between the two countries any time soon.

Not the only way

Notably, unlike most others, Canada’s ban is on direct flights and not travelers themselves. This means passengers could enter Canada if they break their journey in a third country and take another COVID-19 test. Indeed, reports have begun emerging of travelers opting to purchase expensive tickets in order to fly to Canada from India with a stop of COVID-19 testing.

Currently, very few countries have their borders open to Indian travelers. However, passengers have been creative with their stops. Cities like Belgrade, Mexico City, Addis Ababa, and others have emerged as popular locations to break journeys and take another COVID-19 test.

Qatar A350
Passengers have been taking one-stop and two-stop itineraries from India to reach Canada. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Once passengers test negative, they are free to enter Canada once again. However, quarantine and testing rules on return still apply to all travelers from India. This includes a three-day stay in a hotel on arrival, a negative test, and 14 days of home quarantine. However, the ban still leaves space for travelers from India looking to return to reunite with their families, for studies, or any other reason.

Airlines locked out

For Air Canada and Air India, the announcement means another month of missing out on lucrative flights from India. Considering the larger Indian diaspora in Canada, ties between the countries are robust. This contributed to millions of yearly passengers between the countries, meaning big business for the flag carriers.

For now, any wishing to fly must be prepared for long journeys with multiple stopovers to reach Canada. However, an incoming proposal could make the hotel quarantine requirement obsolete for fully vaccinated individuals. As vaccination rates rise, we could see the flight ban also eased in the coming months.

What do you think about Canada’s decision to extend its flight ban? Let us know in the comments.

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Vietnam Airlines Set To Receive $174 Million In Aid From Banks



Vietnam’s flag carrier Vietnam Airlines will receive a total of 4 trillion dong ($174.8 million) from three Vietnamese banks. The airline has been struggling to cope with the financial impact of the ongoing pandemic. The loan will be used to keep the airline out of bankruptcy but it might not be enough.

Vietnam Airlines has been offered a loan from three Vietnamese banks. Photo: Airbus

According to reporting by Reuters today, three banks will lend interest-free loans over the next month. The three banks are Vietnam Maritime Commercial Joint Stock Bank, Saigon – Hanoi Commercial Joint Stock Bank, and SeABank.

In total, the three banks will hand over 4 trillion Vietnamese dong ($174.8 million) to save Vietnam Airlines from bankruptcy. While this might sound like a lot, the airline recorded a net loss for the first quarter of this year of just under 5 trillion dong ($217 million). So, this loan amount won’t even cover the first quarter.

According to experts from the Vietnamese Ministry of Planning and Investment, the airline could have a net loss of 10 trillion dong ($435 million) for the first half of the year.

Raising capital

With such huge losses, the airline needs more than a loan to get back on its feet. The plan is for the airline to raise its own capital by issuing new shares to its current shareholders before the end of the year.

Vietnam Airlines will sell 11 of its older A321s to help boost its cash flow and pay debts. Photo: Airbus

Furthermore, Vietnam Airlines announced earlier this month that it would sell 11 Airbus A321s to help improve cash flow issues. Although the airline has said it is selling the aircraft to modernize its fleet, there is little doubt that financial issues had a lot to do with the decision. The aircraft for sale are just over 12 years old.

The banks’ decision to lend money to the airline is slightly surprising to some. In recent weeks reports suggested that banks were unwilling to lend money to the airline. According to local media outlet, the airline was behind on repayments, and creditors considered legal action to get the airline to pay up.

The Vietnamese government has an 86% stake in the airline. The government is also helping fund the banks. Photo: Airbus

There is a chance the banks had their minds changed by the Vietnamese government. The government owns 86% of the airline. The government had promised a bailout package to commercial banks but was slow to pay up.

Banks have been asking the government to restructure debt payments and make changes to interest fees to help prop up banks and other businesses. The result is that the government-owned airline is being propped up by banks that are relying on government loans themselves.

Currently, Vietnam Airlines’ worries are closely tied to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. It looks as though the airline won’t recover until case numbers go down. Unfortunately, cases are on the rise in Vietnam. Bank loans may not be enough to tide the airline over until it can unground aircraft and get back to a regular schedule.

What do you think of Vietnam Airlines’ situation? Do you think the airline can recover? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Electric Planes Are Inevitable



In a short documentary about airlines, Wendover Productions shares why electric planes are inevitably coming. “It doesn’t currently make sense for airlines to care about climate change,” the narrator of the video said. These are some of the top polluters in the transportation industry, but they basically just get a pass due to a lack of cleaner alternatives.

For airlines, the thing that enables profits is to not care about climate change. Global warming mitigation efforts to adequately make up for airline emissions would cost so much that the airline companies would suffer financially — not something they are willing to do if not forced.

“Carbon doesn’t have a cost for airlines. With few exceptions, emitting more carbon does not cost the airlines anything, but it enables them to make more profit. So, the theoretically correct thing for airlines to do is to emit the amount of carbon that enables them to generate the most profit, regardless of environmental consequences.”

Airlines sometimes do care about climate change for public relations reasons — it looks good to care about the planet, or to pretend to care about the planet if you are convincing enough. Airlines that are seen as “green” or “greener” are usually more desirable to those wanting to fight climate change. It’s the consumers, not the for-profit businesses, who are demanding that the businesses care.

“Net carbon-zero is expensive. Biofuel development is expensive. Sustainable aircraft development is expensive. All more expensive than would make sense if airlines and aircraft developers exclusively cared about PR.”

Why Airlines Are Starting To Take Climate Change Seriously

The narrator explained that airlines and aircraft manufacturers are terrified of regulation. In France, the national assembly passed a bill that would ban short-haul flights on routes that could be traveled in 2½ hours or less by train. Several other European countries have proposed similar bills, and airlines just don’t have good enough arguments against these regulations.

“A move away from the shortest-haul, most replaceable flights will be the start, but it won’t end there.”

Since airlines are one of the more carbon-intensive industries, they will start facing these challenges — unless they become less carbon-intensive. That is, unless they take fighting climate change seriously — see it as something they need to do rather than as an act to simply appear green.

The narrator noted that flying won’t stop and governments won’t restrict it — and that it’s needed. However, governments will put pressure on the industry to reduce its carbon footprint. One way is to have airlines price their carbon footprint into the cost of flying. They can do this by structuring so that greener flying is cheaper flying. A great example of this is hefty carbon taxes.

Airlines Care About Climate Change Because It’s Competitive To Do So

The video pointed out that the airline industry cares because airline companies are pragmatic. Some of the things that have helped this industry so far are biofuels, engine efficiency improvements, and carbon offsetting.

One solution that can really turn flying into an actually sustainable method of transportation is the creation of electric aircraft. These already exist, and more are being developed. As the underlying technologies improve and become cheaper, it will become much more feasible to develop larger passenger and cargo electric aircraft. (So far, we are talking about rather small planes with quite limited range/capabilities.)

“There’s not a whole lot technologically that has or is preventing electric aircraft from existing. What is, is the business case. Batteries are just more expensive and less energy dense than fuel, so with carbon emissions always having been free for airlines, it’s just always made sense to use petroleum-based fuel.”

When you think about that for a moment, you can also see that a high price on carbon would result in a quicker transition to electric aircraft.

The narrator pointed out another challenge: developing aircraft is pretty expensive and getting an aircraft certified for commercial use using a new type of motor is even more so. So, why should an aircraft company go through all of this for something that doesn’t make sense in the business case? The answer to that question is the evolution of the said business case.

New Business Case In Favor Of Clean Energy

For the first time, there’s a new and strong hypothesis of a business case that’s been developed and if it works, it could dramatically shift how commercial aircraft work in generations.

“Electric aircraft inherently have constraints. While much progress has been made in the past decade to bring down the price of batteries, and they now cost 1/10th as much per kilowatt-hour compared to a decade ago, less has been done to increase battery energy density — that is, the amount of electricity stored per pound or kilogram.”

The narrator explained that with EVs, weight doesn’t matter with the primary novel application. It’s easier to increase the range by bringing down costs and add more batteries instead of improving their energy density. For aircraft, it’s much different. The lighter they are, the further they can fly. Adding additional batteries to provide the energy to carry the weight of those batteries is something aircraft need to do in order to fly further.

Another thing explained in the video is that all of the viable electric aircraft are propeller-driven, mainly because of the cost. It’s more costly to develop an electric jet engine. Also, it saves time for short-range flights.

“Airlines need to find a use case for short-range, slow, electric aircraft. Conveniently, it already exists.”

The narrator explained that United Airlines flies to sixteen destinations less than 250 miles or 400 kilometers away from its Denver, Colorado hub. These destinations include Aspen, Montrose, and a few others that are high-yield and high-frequency locations even though they are close to Denver.

These flights also connect tourists to popular ski towns. The narrator spoke of Widerøe in Norway. Out of its 47 destinations, 19 are within 250 miles of Widerøe’s Tromsø hub. Many of these routes are over distances fewer than that. Another airline, Cape Air, doesn’t fly any routes over 250 miles in length.

“The use case for electric aircraft already exists because airlines like Cape Air have already found it, just not yet using electric aircraft. They fly from hubs to small destinations on 9-seat propeller aircraft and partner with mainline airlines to offer connecting itineraries.”

For them, the range constraints plaguing electric aircraft don’t really matter since the routes are short. The speed constraints are also irrelevant in this case. In the case of Cape Air, electric aircraft could easily replace all of its flights and also take over some of Delta, JetBlue, United, and other larger airlines’ routes.

How Cape Air Could Be The Highest Operating-Margin Airline In The World

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Order Re-Selecting Airline is a document for its essential air service subsidized flights from Boston Logan Airport to August and Rockland. Routes such as the smaller, remote communities across the nation are subsidized by the U.S. government. This is to improve connectivity and economic opportunity in these areas.

Since the bids from airlines to operate these routes are public records, the video was able to look at Cape Air’s records and see just how the airline benefited, while making a case for switching to electric airplanes. Cape Air won the bid to operate the route to Rockland, Maine — receiving a subsidy of $2,218,126 for the first year — 2019–2019. That number grew to almost $2.5 million by their fourth year. Rockland has a tourist season but is normally quieter during the winter months. Cape Air’s flights to Rockland vary due to this and they can operate anywhere between three daily round-trip flights in the winter and six in the summer.

Breaking Down The Math

“They’re obligated to operate some 1,365 flights annually representing 12,285 total available passenger seats in each direction. According to Cape Air’s estimates, this route should cost some $3,350,746 a year to operate. They estimated some 15,122 total passengers would fly but publicly available data shows that only 6,733 boarded their planes in Rockland in 2019.

“Assuming it’s roughly the same in the other direction, as one would expect, that means they saw only 13,466 total passengers, representing a 54.8% load factor. Selling tickets for an average of $83, the airline likely, therefore, brought in $1,117,678, which combined with their $2,247,721 year-two subsidy means that they earned some $3,365,399 in revenue. Subtracting their annual cost estimates, that means they only turned $14,653 in profit or $1.09 worth per passenger.

This shows just how tight airlines’ margins can be. But what would they be if they were operated by electric airplanes? Excessive fuel costs would be the first thing to go. Electricity, although not free, has a much lower cost compared to fossil fuel. Electricity can also be converted into capital costs instead of an ongoing cost by investing in solar or wind energy generation, which is something Cape Air has been eyeing.

For Cape Air, its $844,002 in annual fuel costs could be eliminated if it made the switch to electric. Other costs would go up and ownership cost would probably double, at least. Maintenance costs would be much lower than with traditional internal combustion driven aircraft — similar to electric cars.

The three factors together put Cape Air on track for a 40% reduction in operating costs, which is notable.

“On their Rockland route, assuming no change in revenue, that would take $1.09 in per passenger profit and turn it into $100.62 — a number so dramatically different that it doesn’t even sound correct.”

The video has other examples, and its key point is that electric aircraft aren’t just inevitable, but make the most sense by far. The proven business case along with the case study of Cape Air shows a glimpse of the financial benefits airlines would have by making the switch to electric for their shorter routes.

You can watch the full video here.

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