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Home > Flying the Plane > What are the cruising speeds of the various airliners?
What are the cruising speeds of the various airliners?
Flying - Flying the Plane
Monday, 07 January 2008 20:22

Hello Capt Lim!

Very informative, extensive and thoroughly enjoyable site!

I have 3 issues lingering in my mind.

1. When aircraft are assigned altitudes during peak periods, are they also assigned cruise speeds? Or, are these factors already taken into account
for the various aircraft types by the controllers when the flight plans are being filed?

2. During the cruise, is the Mach Number preset by the auto-throttle or is it gradually achieved by manually setting the throttle levers?

3. And finally; what are the cruising speeds of the various airliners?

Thank you very much in advance and take care of yourself and the passengers.

Rani Isaksen,
Faroe Islands

Hi Rani,

Thank you for visiting my site. Here are the answers to your questions:-

1. Every aircraft has an optimum cruising speed at a particular level. For the Boeing 777, it

is Mach 0.84 at around 35,000 feet or Mach 0.86 for the Boeing 747-400. When filing a Flight Plan, the cruising speed must be given for every types of aircraft. During peak periods, the ATC or Air Traffic Control may assign a common speed for spacing to ensure safety. So a Boeing 747 pilot may not be able to fly his desired speed of Mach 0.86 and fly at Mach 0.84 instead if she is behind a Boeing 777.

2. On the Boeing 777, the cruising speed at any level is calculated by the computer of the aircraft. For example, at 28,000 feet, the computer (FMC) will command a speed of Mach 0.81. When the computer is coupled or connected to the auto-pilot and the auto-throttle, the power setting is achieved automatically. There is no need for the pilot to manually set the
throttle settings as he would have done in older aircraft.

3. Here are the optimum cruising speeds for some of the more modern Airliners flying today.

Airliners Optimum cruising Speeds (Mach)

Boeing 747-400 0.86
Boeing 787 0.85
Boeing 777 0.84
Boeing 767 0.80
Boeing 757 0.80
Boeing 737 -800 0.78
Boeing 737 - 300/400/500 0.74

Airbus 380 0.85
Airbus 340 -300/600 0.82
Airbus 330 0.82
Airbus 320 0.78
Airbus 310 0.78

McDonnell MD-11 0.85

For your information, Mach 1.0 is equivalent to the speed of sound. It is 758 miles per hour or 660 knots at sea level. This speed varies with altitude and temperature. Mach 0.84 means the speed of the Boeing 777 is cruising at 84 % the speed of sound at 35,000 feet.

Bye bye and safe flying!

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WHAT!!!???!!!???
That doesn't make sense! When I was flying en-route Abu Dhabi-NYC via Etihad. The speed meter said that we were going at 660 mph at 36000 feet! That's a supersonic A-330! However, the flight was delayed 3 hours while I was in the plane, so they had to rush...I guess smilies/smiley.gifsmilies/wink.gifsmilies/cheesy.gifsmilies/grin.gifsmilies/angry.gifsmilies/sad.gifsmilies/shocked.gifsmilies/cool.gifsmilies/tongue.gifsmilies/cry.gifsmilies/kiss.gif
xwjtyftu , 24 Nov, 2009
It makes sence
If you were flying at 660mph (Ground speed), that means the A330 was Flying at March 0.87, so it was still a subsonic flight but the plane was flying over its optimum cruising speed. smilies/wink.gif
Xtian , 27 Jul, 2010
It doesn't make sense
You haven't say whether it was TAS,KIAS or Ground speed. And I think that there was a tailwind...
Michal , 25 Aug, 2011
Cruising Speed
If an emergency onboard a Boeing 757, for example, made it necessary to continue to the nearest airport at the normal cruising speed of approx. 530mph at 35,000ft, could that speed be maintained in controllable flight at lower altitudes, right down to near landing, or would the aircraft slow down due to denser air ??
Macky , 12 Jul, 2012
Re: WHAT!!!???!!!???
The maximum cruise speed of the A330 is Mach 0.86 which at 36,000 ft is 567 mph(913 km/h). In order to obtain a ground speedof of 660 mph there could have been an average 90+ mph tailwind. The plane's true air speed would have not exceeded 570 mph, (unless the pilot exceeded recommended maximum).

There's a post that explains how this works: http://www.askcaptainlim.com/f...-wind.html.
Technophant , 27 Mar, 2014
Re: WHAT!!!???!!!???
The maximum cruise speed of the A-330 is Mach 0.86 which at 36,000 ft is 567 mph(913 km/h). In order to obtain a ground speedof of 660 mph there mus have been an average 90+ mph tailwind. The plane's true air speed would have not exceeded Mach 0.86 and would therefore be subsonic.

There's a post that explains how this works: http://www.askcaptainlim.com/f...-wind.html.
Technophant , 27 Mar, 2014
660 knots
You had a tailwind and the speed was ground speed. Six-hundred-sixty knots across the ground is fast, but not unusual. Typical closing speeds for two commercial aircraft is usually somewhere around 900 knots or 15 miles per minute. That's what makes my job interesting.

One of our biggest challenges as controllers now is that optimal speed means different things to different pilots/airlines. An aircraft coming off a long ground delay might be fire-walling the engines (also known in the business as "hotel speed." An aircraft that is on time or ahead of schedule might be cruising at a very slow, but more fuel efficient speed. Also, some airline pilots are paid by the hour and may be in no big hurry. Disgruntled pilots involved in labor disputes may fly fast and low to stick it to the company by burning more gas. Alternatively, those same pilots may fly super slow to stick it to the company by arriving late.

It used to be that we had a pretty good idea of what each company would fly for a speed in each aircraft. Now, you never know...which is why I always train the new guys to assign a speed to the pilot if they are within 10 miles, in trail, and at the same altitude.
Old Air Traffic Controller , 30 Jul, 2014

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