787 network analysis: Boeing's 'hub-buster' is mostly used by airlines to feed, not bypass, hubs

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Late in the past century, Airbus and Boeing established competing visions for the future of air travel and shaped their aircraft products accordingly. Airbus envisaged a future of strong hub-to-hub flying that would require its A380. Boeing foresaw the emergence of new long haul city pairs as airlines bypassed hubs to link small/medium cities directly point-to-point with its 787.

Both manufacturers were right - and wrong. Hubs dominate, yet most airlines prefer medium/large aircraft and not the very large aircraft category, consisting of A380s and 747-8s. A380 sales have lagged, raising questions about the aircraft's future, while Boeing is cutting 747-8 production again and has acknowledged that it may need to end production entirely.

Boeing positioned its 787 as a "hub-buster" that would not require passengers to transfer through hubs. Yet 73% of 787 flights are between hubs, among those operated by airlines with more than hub. Hub-to-secondary flights are few, but demonstrate some of Boeing's objectives with the 787: new routes and more frequencies. While hubs dominate, the 787 has given rise to smaller hubs like Denver and Calgary. Partnerships also help explain 787 network deployment: 66% of 787 flights are on routes without a partnership, perhaps indicating airline preference for a lower-risk aircraft.

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