Air Lease’s big bet on the -10 is rooted in the type’s versatility, which should allow it to serve almost every intercontinental route flown by widebodies tagged for replacement as the new aircraft enters service, says Air Lease Chairman and CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy.
“We looked at the route networks of the major intercontinental carriers and came to the conclusion that the 787-10 can operate effectively in about 95% of the routes that are currently served by aircraft such as  , [ ] , 777-300s, and so on,” Udvar-Hazy explained on a recent earnings call. “So it can serve a very, very significant portion of all widebody operations, all the way out to 7,000 nm.”
Air Lease helped Boeing launch the 787-10 with a 30-aircraft memorandum of understanding (MOU) at June’s Paris air show. The MOU also adds three 787-9s to existing firm orders for 12. One 787-9 is scheduled to arrive in 2017, while the first 787-10s will come a year later.
Udvar-Hazy points to the competitive range and added capacity as the newest 787’s key differentiators. The 787-10’s 18-ft. fuselage stretch means six more rows of seats—54 passengers in a nine-abreast coach cabin—compared with the 787-9, which will boast a range of 8,500 nm. The longer tube also means two large pallet positions below deck, or one pallet plus four LD-3 containers.
“So both the passenger revenue capability of the airplane and the underfloor cargo capacity of the airplane increase significantly over the 787-9, with minimal changes to the aircraft,” Udvar-Hazy says. “The result is that the unit economics of the airplane, in terms of seat-kilometer cost and the additional cargo capability . . . put it in a very unique and advantageous position.”
Air Lease continues to work with Boeing on the 787-10’s “development and final product definition,” said Udvar-Hazy. But two key details—maximizing commonality with the 787-9 and pushing the range to 7,000 nm.—have apparently already been decided.
“We essentially have an airplane now that has almost the capacity of a 777-300ER, but with substantially lower trip costs and [direct operating costs] on a seat-mile basis,” Udvar-Hazy says. “So it’s really a quite easy equation, which results in a superior airplane in terms of economics for the airlines.”
A sizable 787 commitment helps keep Air Lease’s portfolio right where management likes it—balanced. The lessor has signed up for 30 Airbusfor delivery starting in 2018. It also has 21 Boeing 777-300ERs, as well as 21 Airbus -200s and A330-300s either in its portfolio or on order.
“This balancing concept prevents us from becoming overly exposed to any single aircraft type that might be impacted by market conditions,” says President and COO John Plueger.
Air Lease also believes a large, diverse fleet of new-generation widebodies sets it up to capitalize on the phasing out of twin-aisles delivered 10-15 years ago.
“We looked at what is the requirement to replace those aircraft as we look at between, say, 2015 to 2022,” Udvar-Hazy says. “And that’s where we see the A350-900, the A350-1000, the larger members of the 787 family, and then ultimately the 777X.”
The strategy is already paying off. Air Lease says it has placed eight of its 787-9s and is fielding inquiries for A350s.