Commercial aviation: air travel economics?

This data-file estimates the economics of a commercial airliner, over the course of its life: i.e., what ticket price must be charged to earn a 10% IRR after covering the capex costs of the plane, fuel costs, crew, maintenance and airport and air traffic charges.

We conclude that the single largest determinants of economics are the utilization and load factor of the plane. Fuel and maintenance are likely to be joint second.

The IEA’s proposal for a $250/ton CO2 price in the developed world would likely increase average ticket prices by 30%. But this would most likely end up as an outright tax on travel, as 2-4x higher CO2 prices again would be required to incentivize the use of alternative, low carbon aviation fuels.

Boeings and batteries?

We have applied the equations of flight to a Boeing 747. Fuel economy of 5-6 gallons per mile is calculated as a function of the plane’s mass, velocity, distance travelled and aerodynamics. Hence for a 10,000km journey, jet fuel makes up c30% of the take-off weight (which is more than all the passengers).

To fuel the same journey with battery-power would require the batteries to weigh 12x more than the entire plane, at batteries’ current energy density. The maximum range of a battery-powered 747 is currently around 90km.

With some heroic assumptions over the next 10-20 years, a battery-powered 747 could be extended to cover c1,000km. But overall, because of the long range, Trans-Atlantic air travel looks immune to electrification.

Download the model and you can see our calculation methodology, as well as testing your own inputs.

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2022.