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

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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