Singapore Airlines eyes ultra long-haul US return

18 Aug 2015 by Alex McWhirter

Singapore Airlines is set to reclaim its crown as operator of the world's longest non-stop flight in 2018.

The carrier is looking to Airbus to develop a long-range 900 series version of the new A350.

Kiran Rao, Airbus' executive vice president for strategy and marketing, told Bloomberg that with fewer seats the A350, which can accommodate 325 passengers, could accomplish a 19-hour flight from Singapore to New York using 25 per cent less fuel.

SIA chief executive Goh Choon Poon is keen to restart the non-stop Singapore to New York Newark and Los Angeles services that rising fuel costs forced it to axe in 2013 (see news, October 2013).

The airline had flown both routes for almost a decade using a long-range four-engined A340-500.

But the price of fuel made very long flights uneconomic as during the early stages of an ultra long-haul flight, the aircraft burns fuel just to carry (the extra) fuel. Which is why Air France's then-CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon once billed the A340-500s as "flying fuel tankers with few people on board".

After cancelling the routes, SIA saw its US airline ranking fall from fifth to ninth (in terms of total capacity).

Now developments at Airbus mean relaunching both routes with an A350 is likely to be on the cards for 2018.

And Emirates' announcement last week that it will from operate the world's longest non-stop flight, to Panama City, from February garnered a huge amount of publicity (see news, August 13).

Today, SIA serves the US with one-stop flights; but the overall journey time to New York or Los Angeles is extended by many hours.

It means Singapore itself is viewed as a more remote destination in North American eyes (in comparison to, say, Hong Kong which has non-stop service) and this is not good for trade and investment.

With no four-engined long-haul planes in production, the A380 excepted, SIA is looking to Airbus to develop a long-range 900 series A350.

When the airline flew non-stop to the US, it initially configured the A340-500 in a comfortable two-class premium economy and business layout. Only latterly did SIA reconfigure it all-business class. At no time did SIA provide either first or economy class seating.

So why cannot Boeing's B777-200LR, the aircraft to be used by Emirates for Dubai-Panama City, be operated by SIA instead?

According to aviation experts, and despite what Boeing's sales people might claim, the B777-200LR can reach Los Angeles but doesn't quite have the range for New York.

In addition, this aircraft is of an older generation so is heavier and thirstier on fuel.

One advantage of the A340-500 was that its four engines gave it the flexibility to choose a variety of routings. For example, in the case of New York, the flight time could vary by as much as two hours, depending on the season and the prevailing winds.

It remains to be seen if the A350 can provide the same level of flexibility.

Alex McWhirter

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