It was a bold move a few years back when oil was cheaper than today. But in an age of costly fuel the two airlines which pioneered ultra long-haul flying between SE Asia and the USA, namely SIA and Thai Airways, have found these routes increasingly uneconomic to operate.
Thai has already axed its non-stop flights to Los Angeles and New York (see In Focus, April 2012) and now SIA will follow towards the end of next year.
Both carriers operated four-engined A340-500s which are the only plane type capable of operating these routes where the non-stop flying time could be between 16 and 19 hours.
Why were the routes unprofitable? Firstly the A340-500 was unable to carry a lot of passengers on these routes (because of weight limitations) but also when operating a very long flight the A340-500 must be filled to the brim with kerosene.
So in the early stages of the mission, the plane is burning fuel just to carry fuel. That is why Air France’s ex-chief executive, Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, once described these aircraft as “flying fuel tankers with few people on board.”
Airbus will acquire SIA’s five A340-500s later in 2013 as part of an order, announced today, whereby the Singapore carrier will buy a further five A380s and 20 A350s from the European aircraft manufacturer.
“Although [it is] disappointing that we will be halting these services, we remain very committed to the US market. Over the past two years we have increased capacity to both Los Angeles and New York by deploying on A380 superjumbos on flights via Tokyo and Frankfurt.”
The non-stop flights will be missed by global business travellers. They shaved hours off the flying time between SE Asia and the US and so made a long trip more palatable.
For more information visit singaporeair.com.
Report by Alex McWhirter