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Business in Vancouver

Dreamliner opening skies to increased traffic

Advanced plane technology makes more Vancouver long-haul routes viable

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2016, 3:32pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2016, 3:33pm

By Glen Korstrom

Fuel-efficient and compact Boeing Dreamliner aircraft are enticing airlines to launch new routes between Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and cities around the world that would not have been seen as viable were it not for the new aircraft.

The new routes heighten YVR’s status as a hub airport while increasing traffic and making it easier for the Vancouver Airport Authority (VAA) to reach its goal of serving 25 million passengers by 2020.

New non-stop Air Canada flights to Brisbane, Australia, and to Delhi, India, from Vancouver, for example, would not have been viable without Dreamliner aircraft, Air Canada’s president of passenger airlines, Ben Smith, told Business in Vancouver.

“[Dreamliner aircraft] are the right size for this market, the right fuel efficiency, and you can see we’ve got the right seat configuration for this market,” Smith said. “We’ve never had that before at our disposal.”

Not only do Dreamliner aircraft have more efficient engines that burn less fuel, they are also able to fly faster and higher than previous Boeing planes, such as the Boeing 777. Air Canada still uses 777s to fly long-haul routes between Vancouver and Sydney, Australia – a route that has sufficient demand for the larger plane.

Dreamliner aircraft also cost less to maintain and have sturdier frames. That combination enables the airline to pressurize cabins to allow more humidity, thereby adding value by helping passengers avoid jet lag.

Air Canada owns two kinds of Dreamliner aircraft. Its 29 Dreamliner 787-900 planes each seat 298 people, including 30 in business class and 21 in premium economy class – a configuration deemed ideal for Delhi flights.  Its eight Dreamliner 787-800 planes are smaller and seat 251 people, including 20 passengers in business class and 21 in premium economy class – a configuration ideal for Brisbane flights, said Smith.

Air Canada is considering launching other routes out of Vancouver to “Asia and the South Pacific” that are newly deemed to be viable because of Dreamliner aircraft, Smith added.

He would not be more specific because he said he did not want to tip off the airline’s competitors.

Chinese airlines, which compete with Air Canada, have launched routes between Vancouver and medium-sized Chinese cities that may not have been deemed viable were it not for Dreamliner aircraft.

Xiamen Airlines, for example, launched non-stop flights on Dreamliner aircraft to Vancouver from the secondary city of Xiamen, China, which has a population of just over two million people, in July.

No one from Xiamen Airlines was available to comment on whether those flights would have gone ahead were it not for the Dreamliner planes.

VAA CEO Craig Richmond suggested that a future Air Canada route out of YVR on Dreamliner aircraft could be to Mumbai, which is India’s financial centre.

That route could be in the cards given that the airline already plans to launch non-stop flights between Toronto and Mumbai, on Dreamliner planes, starting in July 2017.

“Mumbai is a logical route for us,” Richmond said. “We’re actually starting to see some cities that so far have not been on our list [of potential new routes] become viable, like Barcelona. That’s a real opportunity.”

Smith stressed that any new long-haul route out of Vancouver would require demand from business travellers.

That rules out new non-stop flights to faraway vacation destinations, such as Bali, Indonesia.

“Bali is very far for a predominantly leisure route,” he said. “These types of routes, because you’re carrying the fuel so much further, if there’s no business component, it’s pretty hard to make the route viable.”

Business-class travellers tend to pay at least several times the price of the average economy fare and are more likely to see the value of a non-stop flight to a destination than would a family of four going on a vacation and sitting in the economy section, explained Smith.

Families, he explained, are more likely to see the value of knocking a couple of hundred dollars, or more, off the price of each economy ticket by flying on a one-stop route.

The only announced future route on a Dreamliner aircraft out of YVR is Air Canada’s plan to launch daily non-stop flights between Vancouver and Taipei in June 2017, pending government approval.

Eva Air and China Airlines already offer daily non-stop flights between Vancouver and Taipei but do not use Dreamliner aircraft.