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Narrowbody vs widebody - which aircraft are more profitable and efficient on transatlantic routes?

We use our Carbon Emissions Calculator to examine the profitability and CO2 implications of the transatlantic narrowbody.

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Recent years have seen the emergence and growth of a new player in the transatlantic market - the long-haul narrowbody. IBA has observed a variety of operators deploying narrowbody aircraft on major transatlantic routes, competing directly against the traditional network carriers that typically operate a blend of widebody aircraft. This trend has been largely enabled by the emergence of efficient, long range versions of existing aircraft, such as the A321neo LR/XLR and some Boeing 737 MAX models.


The bottom line? - the cost per kilometre (and resultant CO2 per kilometre) of operating an Airbus A321neo LR on mature transatlantic sectors represents significant benefits when compared to both current and new generation widebody aircraft. However, understanding the true profitability and efficiency of narrowbody aircraft on transatlantic routes requires context and a careful selection of metrics.


What impacts the profitability of long haul narrowbody aircraft?

The profitability of the transatlantic narrowbody is broadly influenced by 3 key factors.


  • Seat configuration - the inherent lack of space provided by a narrowbody aircraft compared to a widebody results in a costly disparity between space for high yield premium and business class seats. This results in lower margins for carriers in an already tough climate.

  • Oil prices - Recent sanctions on Russian oil have made oil prices an even more notable driver in profitability for operators. IBA's analysis shows that fuel accounts for over 50% of the total fixed costs per hour on new generation narrowbody and widebody aircraft in the current climate. There is an inherent risk in operating narrowbody aircraft on saturated transatlantic routes, such as JFK-LHR, due to a notable disparity in profits.

  • Load factors and profits - on average, profits from a widebody aircraft on a transatlantic sector can be 30-55% higher than a narrowbody. Despite this, it is important to understand such differences assume 100% load factors. Operators could find it easier to ensure such load factors on smaller narrowbody aircraft, reducing that gap.

  • Passenger trends - Passenger trends have moved to a trade-off between comfort and cost. This effectively means it is much easier for a low-cost-long-haul operator to fill a narrowbody aircraft. This maximises ancillary revenues on longer sector lengths compared to a widebody operator when the direct cost to the passenger is 25% lower than that of the competing network airline. Operators such as JetBlue, TAP Portugal and SAS have identified a gap within the transatlantic market, and aim to maximise load factors by offering seats at prices more than 25% lower than other carriers. They can do this whilst utilising their existing short haul fleet. Pre-pandemic, the JFK-LHR route was operating at around 84% load factor; assuming it is easier to fill a narrowbody when compared to a widebody on this route given the current climate, profit margins come out comparatively even across the two aircraft classes.

Essentially, the biggest opportunity for narrowbodies such as the A321neo LR lay in operating long, thin routes that would be unprofitable if operated by widebodies.


Are narrowbody or widebody aircraft more efficient on transatlantic routes?

Using intelligence from InsightIQ's Carbon Emissions Calculator, we have identified the most efficient widebody and narrowbody aircraft operated by some key players in the transatlantic market.


The overall CO2 per pax / km is directly influenced by the seating layout for each individual airline, with the trade-off between high density seating layout (C12 Y187) aboard the Air Transat A321neo LR giving impressive efficiency figures. JetBlue's blend of premium economy and business class seating (C24 Y114) places it in the middle of rankings, and stands in contrast to the more business class-oriented product aboard British Airways' Boeing 777-300ER fleet (F14 C56 W44 Y183). We recently took a look at JetBlue's entry into the transatlantic market and the market share of key competitors. IBA also tracks the scope one CO2 emissions of all major commercial aircraft as part of our regularly updated Aircraft Market Intelligence Reports.


IBA's CEC has identified the Air Transat A321neo as the most efficient transatlantic narrowbody


IBA publishes a monthly aviation Carbon Emissions Index in partnership with KPMG, ranking airlines, lessors, and aircraft by CO2 emissions. Powered by our CEC, it provides a regular visualisation of the aviation industry's sustainability performance. We also shine a spotlight on different regions, products and trends in the industry.


IBA's Carbon Emissions Calculator - the definitive commercial aviation carbon calculator

InsightIQ's Carbon Emissions Calculator (CEC) is the most advanced finance-focused carbon modelling tool currently available; it's leading the way. The CEC benefits from IBA's proprietary fuel-burn data which, integrated with InsightIQ's Flights and Fleets module, can illustrate carbon emissions by any combination of: time period, airline, lessor, aircraft MSN and model, fleet, future portfolios, OEM, country, airport and route pair.

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