The widebody market has been soft, particularly for current-generation models that are being superseded in the marketplace by more advanced versions, or—as is the case with the A380 and 747—market dynamics. But those dynamics appear to be opening some opportunities, too, thanks mostly to surging global air traffic demand.
The unifying theme: upgauging.
The concept is most commonly associated to smaller aircraft, such as bumping smaller regional jets for larger ones or even narrowbodies. But there are signs that widebodies are playing larger roles in upgauging strategies, soaring where workhorse narrowobdies often cruise.
“We do believe as we look longer in the future, that we're going to see an expansion of the long-haul low-cost carriers," says Air Lease Corp CEO John Plueger.
While Norwegian and its transatlantic 787 service is one example, an equally savvy bet is expansion of services like the new XL Airways, which use current-generation 777s and—in XL's case—A330s.
Along similar lines, AerCap CEO Aengus Kelly sees a niche market emerging among long-haul charter operators who take advantage of mid-life aircraft, such as the 777, being moved out of mainline operations.
“The 777-300ER is a tremendous airplane,” Kelly says. "If an airline can fill that airplane, it will make money. Even at $100 a barrel, it is the most efficient large twin out there. And any airline that can fill it, loves it. And so we do see a market evolving in the charter market, where we see airlines looking at putting 450 passengers on it.”
Air Lease Corp. Executive Chairman Steven Udvar-Hazy and Aircastle CEO Michael Inglese see the trend helping boost capacity in high-demand regions.
"The premise that there are lots of capacity constraints and high-density routes that would make sense for using [aircraft like] A330s instead of narrowbodies, I think that's logical," says Inglese. "And I think you will see that play out over time, particularly in Asia."
As the 787 and A350 programs mature and the 777X enters service, there are sure to be a host of mid-life widebodies looking for work. Perhaps, though, not quite as many as once forecasted.