Singapore Airlines will restart non-stop flights to Los Angeles and New York from 2018 using a new ultra-long-range version of the Airbus A350.
The airline will buy the first seven of Airbus' new A350-900ULR jetliner, which will have a range of up to 8,700 nautical miles, and says the aircraft could also unlock other non-stop routes between Singapore and the US.
New business class to beat the long-haul blues
SQ's long-legged A350s will be fitted with all-new business class seats currently being designed for its second raft of Airbus A380s.
Airbus has confirmed to Australian Business Traveller that there'll be only around 170 seats, compared to some 300 in SQ's standard mid-range A350.
It's not known if the jets will also sport the airline's new first class design, or what the mix of other seating will be.
Singapore Airlines previously ran non-stop ‘all business class’ flights to Los Angeles and NY-adjacent Newark on the older four-engined Airbus A340 fitted with 100 seats, but axed the service in 2013 due to the rising fuel costs.
Earlier this year, Singapore Airlines CEO Mr Goh Choon Phong told Australian Business Traveller that he was looking beyond the former ‘all business class’ model of those Airbus A340 flights.
“It will probably be more than just business class, I think it will be a mix of cabin classes” Goh said.
From A to B with more Zzzz
Singapore Airlines currently flies to Los Angeles and San Francisco via Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo; New York via Frankfurt; and Houston with a stop in Moscow.
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller during an A350 media briefing in Toulouse this week Mr Tan Pee Teck, Singapore Airlines' Senior Vice President for Product & Services, nominated more sleeping time as a major benefit of non-stop flights from SIngapore to the US.
"When you actually measure the total time (between Singapore and New York) – let’s say you transit through Frankfurt, there’s not much of a difference (between non-stop and transit)," Tan suggested.
"The only thing is that you can have a longer sleep – instead of 13 hours and then 7 hours, you’d fly non-stop."
Making the A350 fly further
"We know the A350 would be capable of what we call ultra-long range missions, flights of 18 or 19 hours, with some limited modifications" Airbus CEO Fabrice Brégier told Australian Business Traveller last week at an event to mark the delivery of Finnair's first A350.
Those modifications to the A350-900ULR over its off-the-shelf sibling include "a higher capacity fuel system within the existing fuel tanks", says Airbus, rather than fitting extra tanks.
The revamped fuel system will boost carrying capacity from 141,000 litres to 165,000 litres and will allow any 900ULR "be reconfigured easily to the standard A350-900 specification" should the non-stop market grow softer than SQ's current forecasts.
Singapore Airlines has been actively lobbying both Airbus and Boeing for a globe-spanning jet, which would allow it to resume non-stop flights between Singapore and the USA, potentially including a 19 hour trek to New York.
New jets like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-9 are allowing airlines to redraw their network map to launch new time-saving routes without a halfway stop-over to refuel.
Announcing Qantas’ Boeing 787 order, Joyce was quick to call out “long-range routes that we don’t fly today” as a prime example of Dreamliner flights.
Joyce sees plenty of appeal in mapping the Boeing 787 onto “routes that we want to fly over a hub and go directly into other destinations without having to fly through LA", as well as direct flights from Australia's west coast into Europe and possibly London.
Specifically, the Singaporean flag-carrier wants more range – enough to run direct flights from Singapore to the USA, potentially including a non-stop 19 hour trek to New York.
“This will need an aircraft based on the latest technology”, Singapore Airlines CEO Mr Goh Choon Phong told Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of a half-yearly gathering of Star Alliance airline CEOs in Warsaw last month.
But Goh says this doesn’t have to be a totally new aircraft. “It could be a variation to a current design, it’s all up to them.”
That could include special extended range or ‘ER’ versions of the Airbus A350 or Boeing 777X fitted with extra fuel tanks.
"I’ll leave it to Airbus and Boeing to decide what they can do with the new technology they already have" Goh said. “All I want is an aircraft capable of that mission and comparable in fuel efficiency to the latest technologies they already have.”
Goh has made his case to both Airbus and Boeing, and says “I am currently waiting for their response.”
Singapore Airlines offloaded its A340s as part of a deal to modernise its fleet with the new Airbus A350, the first of which will take wing in SQ stripe in January 2016.
However, the airline's choice of the mid-size A350-900 jets – which will fly in both three-class and two-class versions – lacks the legs to do Singapore-New York non-stop.
That route is some 9,500 miles, while the A350-900 tops out at roughly 8,700 miles and the longer-range A350-1000 falls short of the mark with a maximum range of just over 9,000 miles.
How many orders would Goh place for a long-legged jetliner from Airbus or Boeing? “That’s something I will discuss with them” he smiles.
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