The Great Airplane Shopping Spree

Later this fall, Houston flyers will be able to try the new Boeing Dreamliner (courtesy United) but that’s not all: airlines are on a shopping spree as they seek to refresh antiquated fleets after a long period of being too broke to buy.

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Why Airlines are Buying

Several factors including a series of 2011/2012 airfare hikes and rising demand – which is expected to make the upcoming Thanksgiving travel season a little more expensive than usual – have combined to makes new planes possible. Certainly, they’re needed, as even a casual observer who doesn’t exclusively fly youthful airlines (like JetBlue and Virgin America) can see for themselves.

Here’s what’s been happening over the past several months:

  • Nov. 2011: American announces biggest order in history from Airbus and Boeing
  • Dec. 2011: Southwest will receive 350 new planes between 2012 and 2022
  • July 2012: United announces 150 Boeing aircraft order worth $9 billion
  • Sept. 2012: Reuters reports Alaska, Delta and US Airways will purchase planes once they decide which to buy

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Good for Airlines

Modern planes are good for the airlines because they’re cheaper to fly, and most of that savings is a result of lower fuel bills. The planes not only use less jet fuel but many are made of lighter materials and less weight means greater fuel savings.

Newer and greener planes also mean fewer CO2 emissions. Southwest for example notes its new aircraft will cut these emissions by 10 percent or more.

Good for Passengers

Many of new planes will have more connections for gadget-minded travelers, plus better lighting and bigger bins for carry-ons. Dreamliner passengers will also enjoy bigger windows but when they’re tired of sightseeing there are no clunky shades to pull down – just hit an electronic switch and watch the windows dim.

By the way, more bin space isn’t just a perk for the carry-on crowd since it may help all passengers board more quickly – that could ultimately translate into a few extra minutes of sleep for all on the day of departure.

Another way we all benefit is through a more vigorous economy and these buying sprees don’t hurt. Plus Airbus plans help meet demand for planes by opening a new jet assembly plant in Alabama. Construction on the Mobile facility is set to begin sometime next year.

More from Rick Seaney:

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Published: September 11, 2012