Long-haul narrowbody flights are quickly becoming the future of the airline industry. With the 737 and A320 families offering longer ranges, several airlines have already started flying such routes. Here are the world’s top long-haul narrowbody airlines and why the numbers will only rise in the future.

Copa leads

According to an analysis by anna.aero, Copa Airlines leads the way when it comes to long-haul narrowbody flights in 2021. With its all-737 fleet, the carrier uses the aircraft to its maximum range, flying from Panama City (PTY) to as far as Montevideo (MVD), Buenos Aries, and Rio De Janeiro. The PTY-MVD route clocks in at 5,447kms, barely under the 737-800s range of 5,765kms and leaving little wiggle room.

Of the 7.1 million long-haul narrowbody seats on sale, Copa accounts for 28% of the market, easily beating out the competition. United and Turkish Airlines come in the second and third, distantly ahead of Icelandair and Avianca.

With the 737 MAX 9 now back in service with Copa, expect more long-haul routes thanks to the plane’s extended 6,570km range.

Top routes

When looking at the busiest long-haul narrowbody routes, one region clearly dominates the list. Seven of the top 10 routes are located in the Americas, with Latin America having six of them. Only one transatlantic route (Icelandair’s Seattle – Keflavik) cracks the top 10, and the only non-Americas route is Mumbai to Nairobi.

In the US, only one domestic narrowbody route reaches the top 10: Chicago – Anchorage, which is flown by both United, Alaska (737s), and American (A321neo). Copa’s Los Angeles to Panama City is the only other US-originating route on the list.

In Latin America, the top routes, in order, are: Panama City-Sao Paulo, Panama City-Santiago, Bogota-Rio De Janeiro, Montevideo-Panama City, Buenos Aries-Panama City. The list clearly shows Copa’s dominance in the rapidly growing market segment.

Expect changes

The current data does reflect changes due to COVID-19. Popular long-haul narrowbody routes like Sydney-Bali have been hurt by border closures, tipping the list toward Latin America. Moreover, long-haul narrowbody capacity is down by 53% this year as airlines continue to suffer from low demand and restrictions.

However, as traffic picks up and new planes enter service, expect this market segment to grow quickly. International demand is expected to remain below 2019 levels for at least the next few years, which will push airlines to swap their widebodies for smaller aircraft in the future.

Additionally, the return of the 737 MAX, entry of the A321LR, and upcoming A321XLR will all shepherd in a new era of long-haul routes. Narrowbody aircraft have become much more versatile in the last few years, offering much better efficiency and longer ranges. As airlines suffer from losses, smaller planes are the need of the hour.

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