United Airlines will start the longest flight between a U.S. location and any airport in the world. The service, which will cover 8,700 miles, will run between Los Angeles and Singapore.
United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL) will use a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner plane for the flight. The aircraft builder launched the plane in 2009 and delivered the first one to Nippon Airlines in 2011. It can hold over 300 passengers. It is good for long-range flights because Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) has taken as much weight off its frame as possible, mostly through the use of composite material. Boeing says it has made 541 of the planes. Boeing’s price for the plane is $270 million, although carriers rarely pay the list price.
Lighter planes have become the key to longer flights. On top of that, international travel has surged. According to a leading industry group:
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced full-year global passenger traffic results for 2016 showing demand (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) rose 6.3% compared to 2015 (or 6.0% if adjusted for the leap year). This strong performance was well ahead of the ten-year average annual growth rate of 5.5%. Capacity rose 6.2% (unadjusted) compared to 2015, pushing the load factor up 0.1 percentage points to a record full-year average high of 80.5%.
The rise in load and drop in fuel prices make these long routes more profitable than they would have been several years ago.