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Routes: 787 promises to create new network opportunities

Like other Boeing 787 customers, British Airways expects the arrival of the Dreamliner in its fleet - albeit much later than scheduled - will transform the way it thinks about network development.

The new 210-250 seat widebody twinjet's size, range and claimed operating cost advantages should make it the ideal tool to open up new routes. Boeing promotes it as a game-changer for what it calls "network fragmentation" as it has the ability to connect city pairs that previously did not have the volume of demand to justify regular services.

BA has 24 787s on order, with the first due to arrive at least two years late at some time in 2012 - like many airlines BA still has not yet been able to announce a definitive delivery date. Significantly, it will be followed into BA's fleet in 2013 by another game-changing aircraft, the Airbus A380.

Kevin McQuillan, the airline's regional general manager for East Asia, said that planning for the 787's arrival is underway and that its long range and lower capacity could potentially bring new or previously served long-haul destinations into the network that cannot be economically served currently with the larger Boeing 777 or 747-400. "For example places like Seoul, Taipei and Manila which we previously served either direct or as a tag onto an existing service," he said.

"Fragmentation really gives passengers more of what they want, and that's more frequent non-stop service," said Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice-president of marketing Randy Tinseth. "What the 787 does is take it to an all-new level."

Tinseth says that the 787's size, range and economics will bring the fragmentation concept to new markets: "Look at the services that Continental talked about with its first 787 prior to its United merger - Houston to Auckland, Houston to Lagos. These sorts of smaller, thinner routes you never thought about before an aircraft with these capabilities was available."

Tinseth said that another benefit of fragmentation is that helps improve the overall fuel efficiency of an airline's entire fleet, "as by flying more direct services you don't have to fly all the feeder flights to your gateway hubs and so this reduces congestion".

A typical route development begins with hub and spoke and then evolves as the secondary hubs connect to each other. "You then get the spokes connecting to each other until eventually you get service through everywhere to everywhere," said Tinseth. "When you look at an airplane like this, airports had better get ready to see even more destinations served."

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