SIA soon to end non-stop US service

7 Oct 2013 by Alex McWhirter

Next month will see SIA’s ranking in the US fall from fifth to ninth place (in terms of total capacity) once it ends its non-stop service to both Los Angeles and New York Newark.

Singapore’s national airline first announced the news a year ago. But time has flown by so quickly that readers wishing to sample two of the world’s longest flights only have a few weeks left to book.

The two non-stop services will be missed by travellers bridging the gap between South East Asia and the US because they shaved hours off the trip.

SIA’s Singapore-Los Angeles route (flight length upwards of 16 hours 30 minutes) ends on October 20, while the Singapore-New York service - which holds the distinction of the world’s longest non-stop route with a flight length upwards of 18 hours 40 minutes - follows suit on November 23. 

The non-stop flights are operated by special four-engined A340-500s configured with 100 business class seats in a spacious four across 1-2-1 layout. There is no first or economy class seating.

According to figures released by Sydney-based consultancy CAPA it means that once these two services are dropped SIA’s business class capacity in the US will fall by no less than 26 per cent.

SIA has no plans to replace the non-stop routes. Both Los Angeles and New York JFK will continue to be served with today’s existing A380 services which call en route in either Tokyo or Frankfurt. There will be no additional flights to make up for the seat shortfall.

Why is SIA ending non-stop US service?

When the A340-500s first entered service in 2004, fuel was much cheaper than today. But as Business Traveller has reported previously, ultra long-haul flights are fuel inefficient. In the early stages of the mission, an aircraft must burn fuel just to carry (the extra) fuel.

The A340-500s were once described by Air France’s ex-chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon as “flying fuel tankers with few people on board.”

It means that despite high ticket prices SIA found an all-business class layout did not cover the high operating costs. (The airline originally tried a mixed configuration of 64 business and 117 premium economy seats but that too was unprofitable).

Indeed it could be said that SIA is simply following in the footsteps of regional rival Thai Airways. The Bangkok-based carrier also operated the A340-500 non-stop from its hub to both US cities. But Thai also found the routes uneconomical. It axed New York in 2008, with Los Angeles following last year (see news, January 2012).

Thai Airways failed to find a buyer for its grounded A340-500s even though they are are less than ten years old. Sadly they have little market value given today’s oil price.

According to CAPA, Airbus has agreed to take back SIA’s five A340-500s in part exchange for new planes it has ordered. But whether Airbus can sell them on or is forced to scrap SIA’s special A340s remains to be seen.

Alex McWhirter 

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