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I know the number 1000 is just an arbitrary number that happens to have some zeros in it, but is there any non-economic obstacle to making a 1000 passenger aircraft?

Also, assume normal-ish space-per-passenger constraints, so 1087 people on a 747 isn't really a 1000-passenger aircraft.

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    $\begingroup$ Related. $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 15 '15 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ mostly structural, to build such a large craft takes some doing $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Feb 15 '15 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ The question fooot linked pretty much answers this: No and Airbus has already designed such an aircraft. That pesky 'economic' part is why it doesn't (and likely won't) exist, though. Demand for aircraft that large is very soft. Even existing A380s (and 747s) aren't getting many sales, with nearly all airlines opting for the twins instead. $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 16 '15 at 4:57
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If money is no object, and we ignore terminal constraints, then no, there isn't. The A380 already supports 850 passengers in a single-class layout, and Airbus has plans to make a stretched version (the wings are designed to give room to stretch the fuselage without needing too much redesign). 1000 passengers isn't really that much of a stretch; we can basically get there now. The issue is that economic obstacles are very real obstacles to building planes; no one has a need for a 1000-person plane on any route (the A380 isn't even used today with max capacity, it's used to give lots of space to first-class passengers with a bit over 500 passengers).

There are certainly at least two airfields out there that would be able to handle a 1000-passenger A380; unfortunately, neither is a commercial airport (the two are Edwards AFB and the Shuttle Landing Facility; the SLF has a 15,000 foot runway that's 300 feet wide, while Edwards has a similarly-sized paved runway). However, if operation is uneconomical, you won't see anyone building a plane to do it.

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    $\begingroup$ If we ignore things like evacuation regulations we can make it a single-aisle cabin, pull out the galleys and lavatories, get the seats from the same supplier as Ryanair and have a 1000-seater today. $\endgroup$ – paul Feb 16 '15 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ I would assume that any runway capable of landing an A380 would probably be large enough to handle a 1000 passenger variant. I suspect the real test are taxiways and terminals. $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Feb 16 '15 at 4:42
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    $\begingroup$ @paul, please don't give Ryanair ideas... I'm already expecting a 700-seater 737 any day now. $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Feb 16 '15 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Jon: Don't worry. Ryanair flies from GA airfields in the middle of nowhere; no way those can handle a 700 seater. $\endgroup$ – MSalters Feb 16 '15 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ @MSalters - you'd be amazed what Ryanair can do to save £8 per flight $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Feb 16 '15 at 16:12
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Yes, there are some barriers:

  • Scaling laws tell us that the structural mass fraction of such a big airplane would increase, reducing its efficiency.
  • To evacuate 1000 passengers within 90 seconds from half of the available emergency exists will require clever engineering.

First the scaling laws: When you increase the size of an aircraft, its area will grow with the square of the increase while its volume will grow with the cube of the increase. This demands proportionally bigger cross sections of all load-carrying members. For the same reason ants cannot be scaled up and elephants have much bigger legs than antelopes. The A380 is already pushing the envelope, and any bigger aircraft will be even more problematic to design. But not impossible.

The emergency slides on the A380 were one of the most challenging parts to design. While normal slides can be mercifully short, lowering a passenger by 8 meters from the upper floor such that he or she will reach the ground at a survivable speed is hard. The slide must be much longer and still is not allowed to buckle. This required the development of new materials.

Now that this has been done, a stretched fuselage with another two or four type I exit doors will make the 1000 pax version possible. But when a future design plans to have a wider fuselage with more seats in a row, this will be one of the first limits to adding seats.

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  • $\begingroup$ "The A380 is already pushing the envelope" - it's pushing an 80-meter aircraft stand envelope, but from an engineering perspective, I think there's quite some margin still. The wingspan is not yet limited by structural considerations. The use of composites in modern aircraft is still quite conservative (in terms of safety factor), so once these materials prove themselves over time, I should expect the A380 will become much like the 747 - massive and durable, but no engineering marvel (of course, the rest of the answer is perfectly valid, and my comment may be somewhat speculative) $\endgroup$ – Sanchises Feb 20 '17 at 10:21
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Aside from finding a route that would make such a large aircraft profitable, the biggest barrier is probably that the existing infrastructure couldn't support such an aircraft. Terminals would have to be enlarged to handle the enormous passage of 1,000 riders. I'd guess that most taxiways probably aren't large enough either. Even the A380 has run into trouble finding suitable airports to operate out of.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think those are ultimately economic matters - they're not impossible or even technically difficult, they just require sufficient funding. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Medico Feb 16 '15 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewMedico I think you've understated the problem though, because at some point the amount of money required to retrofit the infrastructure becomes so cost prohibitive that its impossibile. While its theoretically possible to throw infinity money at a problem, its not probable, and infrastructure, not money, becomes the prohibitive factor. $\endgroup$ – Rhino Driver Feb 16 '15 at 4:45
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    $\begingroup$ It's not so much the terminals that are the issue, but rather parking stands. When the 747 launched, a standard 80 metre box was defined, which is still used for large aircraft stands to this day. Airbus chose to launch the A380-800 first, as it still fits in this box. Any stretched -900 version would require special stands to accommodate it - something that will be difficult to provide at some airports. $\endgroup$ – Gavin Coates Feb 16 '15 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ "We'd need to make airports a bit bigger" is a purely economic issue. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 20 '17 at 9:53
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NASA sponsored a program to answer just this question. It was called the Ultra Efficient Engine Technology project, or UEET. If you Google it I believe you will find the best estimates for max aircraft size, around the turn of the century when this project concluded, was 2.5 million pounds MTOW. That is a bit more than 2X the size of the A380, and with current tech, that number is probably around 3 million pounds MTOW.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE. sources would help to increase the quality of your answer. Also, please report here the data and say how it answer the question, saying "google it" is not really helpful. $\endgroup$ – Federico Feb 20 '17 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ Also, saying that we can Google it to confirm your memory is the wrong way around. You should be doing the Googling to make sure that what you're claiming is actually correct. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 20 '17 at 9:55
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As aircraft get larger, it becomes more difficult to make them strong enough. For example, a two-story building does not move much, but the top of a skyscraper will sway back and forth by about a yard in the wind. Aircraft have the same problem. With super materials, like carbon fiber, it would probably be possible to build an aircraft big enough to hold 1000 passengers, but would require a range of new designs and innovations, so there is a "barrier" in the sense that the builder would have to come up with a whole new set of innovative designs. All of these new designs would then have to be tested, which would be laborious. You may remember the tedious testing process for the 787 "dreamliner" that went on for years, even though it was a relatively standard design. A giant aircraft would have a testing regime that would make the 787's look like a piece of cake.

Airbus has announced that they have a potential design for a stretch 380 that could accommodate 1000 passengers.

From a practicality point of view, 1000-passenger planes would not work without changing the gate arrangements at the airport because loading and unloading would take too long. You would need to have 3 gates, 3 doors and 3 ramps all in operation simultaneously to load and unload the aircraft in a time-efficient manner. Since airport terminals are designed to have only one gate per aircraft, you would have to redesign all the airports in the world to accommodate a gigantic aircraft with a triple gate. Starting to see the problems?

Another problem is that runways might not be long enough. The larger the aircraft, the longer the runway must be. A 747-400 has a rejected takeoff distance of around 12000 feet if there is a reverser failure. Usually 747s will not operate on any runway shorter than 7000 feet and that is pushing it. If they have an RTO on a 7000-foot runway, it could result in multiple fatalities. With a giant aircraft, you might need a 12000 foot runway or something like that at least, so it would be difficult to operate the aircraft.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I'd call the 787 a "relatively standard design"... from the outside, yes. But on the inside it involved a lot of new applications for carbon fiber, and a switch from pneumatic and hydraulic to electric for many systems. And that's what a lot of testing was about. $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 20 '17 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @fooot Its a lot more standard than an aircraft that would carry 1000 passengers. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Feb 20 '17 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ Other answers point out that the A380 could be stretched to fit 1000 passengers, this doesn't seem to fit with your assertion that it would require a whole new set of designs. $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 20 '17 at 17:26

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