Development of commercial aviation technology is aimed largely at improving airplane operating economics, which directly affect airline profitability. Fuel is expected to remain the largest component of airplane operating cost, so technology development efforts focus strongly on reducing fuel consumption. The latest generation of Boeing airplanes, including the 787, 747-8, and the upcoming 737 MAX and 777X, reduce fuel consumption by double-digit percentages compared with earlier-generation airplanes.
Developments in engine technology made possible by advances in materials, aerodynamics, and manufacturing techniques drive much of the improvement. Advances in wing design also contribute to better fuel efficiency. The use of composites in the 787 and 777X wings permitted aerodynamic improvements that could not be achieved using conventional materials. The Boeing Advanced Technology Winglet on the 737 MAX optimizes the performance of the single-aisle airplane's wing. Improved engines, aerodynamics, and systems also reduce noise by as much as 30 percent in the case of the 747-8.
Many developments that reduce fuel use also improve range and payload capabilities. Increased range capability enables airlines to expand the connectivity of their global networks. Increased payload capability allows airlines to carry additional passengers and revenue cargo, which improves profit potential on a given route. For example, a growing number of airlines are increasing passenger revenue by taking advantage of the flexibility of the 777-300ER interior configuration to install 10-abreast economy class seating.
Innovative interiors enable airlines to carry more passengers while improving passenger experience. For instance, larger and higher windows, sculpted sidewalls, and higher ceilings give a cabin interior a more spacious feel. Larger bins that are easier to open and close are more convenient for the crew and enhance passenger experience. The 787 maintains cabin pressure equivalent to that at 6,000 feet of altitude, with improved air purity and more comfortable cabin humidity than earlier airplanes. Developments such as the innovative, flexible lighting on the 787 help airlines differentiate their brands in creative ways that make flying more enjoyable.
Airlines are also increasingly looking to information technology (IT) solutions to improve operational efficiency, decrease costs, improve customer service, and increase safety. Increased communications connectivity and improved mobile technologies are helping IT solutions penetrate every aspect of airline operations, including maintenance and engineering, ground, and in-flight operations.