Alex On … Airbus' ULH A350-900 completes first flight

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  • AMcWhirter

    Airbus has just announced that its ULH (ultra long-haul) A350-900 made its first test flight at Toulouse.

    Singapore Airlines (SIA) has ordered seven of these A350-900s and they will be used when it restarts non-stop flying between Singapore and the USA.

    Initial non-stop routes will be to Los Angeles and New York. The latter will have a flying time of between 17 and 19 hours making it the world’s longest non-stop service.

    From the start SIA operated these non-stop flights with ULH A340-500s.

    But unlike Qantas (with three classes, including tight economy seating, found on its B787s operating Perth-London non-stop) SIA originally decided to ditch normal economy and instead provide two classes: premium economy and business class.

    So the only economy class offered was a sort of quasi-premium economy. Pitch, if I remember correctly, was 37 ins and seating was disposed 2-4-2. However it is true that the fare was higher because this was a special economy product and, as we know, SIA is yield-conscious.

    However with rising oil prices in the following years, SIA changed the layout to 100 seats all-business class in a bid to make the services profitable. (As I written many times previously ultra long-haul flights are not fuel efficient because, in the early stages, an aircraft must burn fuel just to carry fuel)

    To my mind that original two-class configuration offered by SIA seems more suitable for ultra long-haul flying compared to Qantas whose long range B787-9s have 32 ins of economy pitch configured 3-3-3.


    32″ pitch and a good recline is a minimum for longhaul economy and I avoid airlines with less if I travel such flights.
    These non-stops are more costly and for many its better to stopover, especially for good service and seat?
    Probably successful to business pax only, since aircraft have reduced seating at a time when airlines are densifying aircraft.


    Echoing the excellent points raised by Alex McWirter and Flightlevel, being stuck in a narrow economy seat for 17+ hour is not sustainable for many. I personally think the sheen of these non-stops will wear out once economy class demand drops.

    With QF, once the wow factor of the 787 falls away, many may realise that actually Qantas’ premium economy legroom is not fit for purpose on the 787 and that economy at 3-3-3 on an aircraft designed for 2-4-2 is just not comfortable. Less and less of the Y and Y+ market will be willing to pay the 787 premium (over the more spacious A380 alternative via Singapore) and loads in Y may drop accordingly. QF will need to cut a row in Y+ (like Air New Zealand was forced to do when the Spaceseat turned out to be not so spacy) cutting into yield in that class. Business Class will be the only performing cabin assuming it fills.

    Finally, I can see the logic of airlines like SQ and EK/QR operating non stop flights from their hubs to cities like AKL, LAX and NYC. It means that a customer can get from say, Auckland to Paris on QR with only 1 stop in Doha rather than having to route via Sydney, or get from Singapore to New York while avoiding Amsterdam. There is a real advantage there and matches what the competition are doing.

    But for airlines like Qantas, the Perth to London non-stop only benefits the very small Perth market and perhaps the even smaller Adelaide market – who can get to London in 1 stop (like they can on QF’s competitors CX and SQ) rather than backtracking to the East Coast on QF resulting in 2 stops (ie Sydney and Singapore). For those actually starting/ending their journey on the Australian East Coast (ie most of QF’s long haul market), the 787 just means you change your transit from Singapore or Dubai to Perth, the former two being far better transit points than Perth’s relatively small terminal which can’t compete with the likes of Changi/ Hong Kong etc. So apart from being part of the 787 non stop marketing spin, there isn’t much real benefit for most of the market to/from Australia (except Perth and Adelaide).

    So why would anyone want to fly 17+ hours non-stop en route to London in a narrow economy seat at a higher cost, when they can fly on the roomier A380 on the same airline via Singapore and get there in the same amount of time. Taking that into consideration and given that the Qantas 787 is over 50% economy seating, I can’t see how that service can work mid or long term. Once QF start doing non-stop Sydney to London, that may change. But is still begs the question – who would endure that a second or third time in economy and what happens to all those passengers not living in Sydney for whom it won’t be non-stop anyway!

    Most of the above has already been debated elsewhere but it’s food for thought, I guess.


    Today’s Straits Times reports that SIA expects to start Singapore-New York non-stop by end 2018.

    And it would seem that SIA will go two-class (business and premium economy) for its US non-stops.

    This will set SIA apart from other ultra long-haul airlines.

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