Long-range jets could bring Hong Kong, Tokyo direct flights to Miami
By Scott Blake
Miami International Airport officials are looking as far away as Hong Kong and Tokyo to start nonstop and direct flights that are expected to stimulate long-distance leisure and business travel routes to Greater Miami.
The key is the new generation of more fuel-efficient, longer-range passenger jets that are making globe-crossing flights possible, says Chris Mangos, marketing director for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, which runs the airport.
For most carriers, nonstop service between East Asia and Florida currently is "almost impossible because of the distance," he says. "However, with the aircraft ranges changing, the time is ripe for this. It's time to start talking about it seriously."
According to Mr. Mangos, nonstop and direct flights can as much as double passenger traffic between destinations where passengers previously had to make multiple stops or change aircraft.
In addition to Hong Kong and Tokyo, Miami International officials see potential for nonstop and direct service to and from Seoul, South Korea, and Shanghai, China. They also see potential for such flights to and from Eastern Europe, including Poland and Turkey, and points in Africa, such as Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa.
As fuel prices have risen in recent years, airlines have pushed leading manufacturers such as US-based Boeing and Europe-based Airbus to develop more fuel-efficient planes capable of traveling farther, says Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents major US airlines.
Some of those planes have already started operating, while other models are slated to enter service in coming years.
"Certain models flying today can operate 15 to 18 hours nonstop," Mr. Lott says. "With a plane with that kind of range, it really shrinks the globe and allows people to fly to the other side of the world."
The new generation of aircraft includes the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The plane, not yet in service, seats 210 to 290, depending on the version, and is Boeing's most fuel-efficient airliner, the company said.
The Boeing 787 had become the fastest-selling wide-body airliner in history with 677 orders from 59 customers. It was originally slated to enter service in 2008 but has been delayed. However, the 787 received federal certification in August, clearing the way for future deliveries.
Another highly anticipated plane is the Airbus A350, expected to go into service in 2013. The A350 will carry 270 to 350 passengers, depending on the version. Both fuselage and wings are made primarily of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer for greater fuel efficiency. As of July, 567 orders had been placed.
"From the airlines' perspective, fuel represents our single-largest cost at 30% to 35% of total expenses," Mr. Lott says. "So airlines have a very large incentive to lower their fuel bill."
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