Singapore Airlines boosts Boeing 777-9 order as A380 replacement

With a beefed-up order for 31 Boeing 777-9s, Singapore Airlines eyes the last days of the Airbus A380.

By David Flynn, February 10 2021
Singapore Airlines boosts Boeing 777-9 order as A380 replacement

Despite ongoing delays to the Boeing 777-9, Singapore Airlines has increased its order for the next-gen jetliner to serve as the flagship of its post-A380 fleet.

The Star Alliance member will now take 31 Boeing 777-9s, compared to its original order for 20, having converted orders for 14 Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners into 11 of the Boeing 777-9 based on "changes in its projected long-term fleet needs beyond FY25/26."

The shuffle is part of a broader deferment of S$4 billion in deliveries from both Airbus and Boeing "over a longer period than originally contracted, with the delivery stream spread out beyond the immediate five years."

The airline says the move will "also recalibrate the rate of introduction of capacity, following the disruption to the demand for air travel as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic."

Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said the revised schedule would still "retain our commitment to operating new generation aircraft that will enable the Group to continue offering greater comfort and innovative products to customers, further drive operating efficiency, and support ongoing efforts to materially lower our carbon emissions."

Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong is bullish on the Boeing 777-9.
Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong is bullish on the Boeing 777-9.

Here's how the Airbus and Boeing order book for the Singapore Airlines group – which includes low-cost sibling Scoot – now looks:

  • Airbus A320 family: 35
  • Airbus A350-900: 15
  • Boeing 737-8: 31 (note that it's referred to as the Boeing 737-8, not the MAX)
  • Boeing 787 family: 20
  • Boeing 777-9: 31

Singapore Airlines has already announced the retirement of seven Airbus A380s, representing just shy of 40% of the 19-strong fleet and leaving just a dozen superjumbos to ply its most popular and premium-heavy routes.

The carrier was the prestigious launch customer for the Airbus A380 on October 2007, and from December 2017 added a second tranche of newer A380s sporting upgraded first and business class designs.

Singapore Airlines' latest A380s sport six spacious first class suites.
Singapore Airlines' latest A380s sport six spacious first class suites.

However, as with other airlines around the world, Singapore Airlines clearly see the longer-term future of its flagship fleet as resting with fuel-efficient twinjets – in this case the Boeing 777-9, which updates the foundations of the popular Boeing 777 series with modern technology from the Boeing 787.

Boeing rates the 777-9 as capable of carrying up to 426 passengers in a two-class configuration, which would come down to the high 300s in a four-class layout.

In comparison, Singapore Airlines' Airbus A380s house some 457 passengers across two decks – but at the cost of needing to ensure most of those seats are filled, while also burning plenty of fuel through the A380's four engines.

Over a third of Singapore Airlines' A380 fleet has already been retired.
Over a third of Singapore Airlines' A380 fleet has already been retired.

The arrival of Singapore Airlines' first Boeing 777-9 was previously to be in 2024, following a late 2023 debut for launch customer Emirates – the airline has not shared a revised timetable for its Boeing 777-9 delivery, based on this round of deferrals.

When the Boeing 777-9 does arrive, it'll herald the launch of new first class suites and business class seats.

The airline has already showcased its proposed Boeing 777-9 seating to a number of stakeholders and top-tier frequent flyers who signed non-disclosure agreement. 

The Star Alliance member's current Boeing 777 first and business class were launched in 2013, which means they'll be over a decade old by the time the 777-9 versions hit the stage.

Singapore Airlines' current Boeing 777 business class.
Singapore Airlines' current Boeing 777 business class.

Sliding privacy doors have been suggested as a key feature of Singapore Airlines' new Boeing 777-9 first class suites, which CEO Goh has previously promised "will be a first class that we believe when we launch (it) will again set industry standards." 

Goh has also talked up Singapore Airlines' Boeing 777-9 business class, saying a "quantum leap" is in store.

Also read: Flight of fancy? Here are Singapore Airlines' Airbus A380 first class concepts

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685

Whilst this news may bolster Boeing's B779 order book (God knows, it needs it with all the other carrier cancellations and internal Boeing technical delays), it really is a major announcement of SQ's capital spending deferment and re-organisation. S$4 billion / USD$3 billion is a fairly sizable chunk of change when you are looking at deferment options.

I also find it interesting that the expansion of the SQ B779 commitment has come at the greater expense of the B787-10. Given SQ's extensive ULH and LH fleet (A380's, B779's and A350's), one has to ask the question 'why'? 

When originally ordered, the B787-10's were to flesh out and bolster the high density, longer intra-Asia and middle distance regional routes, which are gaining more SQ attention ~ given the integration of Tiger into Scoot and the complete absorption of Silk Air into the mainline SQ brand 

With the cancellation and transference of the B787-10's to B779's, should SQ find the need 'down the road' to cancel frames ~ either due to failure of traffic to return post COVID, or alternatively, if SQ finds itself on shaky financial ground, post COVID ~ then the B779 program might prove the easier path. Given the shrinking number of 'confirmed Boeing orders for the B779 not to mention the lack of orders for passenger B778's, one has to look at whether this Boeing program is 'safe' or whether it will eventually be cancelled.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 120

I think they will get rid of ALL their A380’s not just the 7 touted. The 77X provides the perfect replacement for their Trunk routes used by A380 previously. I would look at the conversion to more 77X for 781’s as the end of their A380’s completely. 

Saying that I don’t expect Qantas to bring any back either sadly. It was only profitable when completely full at a particular yield of fare anyway. It’s the perfect excuse to reshape the fleet under the guise of COVID. Don’t waste a good crisis. 

SQ can't ditch all its remaining A380s for the 777-9 right now because the 777-9s won't arrive until at least 2024 and who knows how much later after this deferral, it could be 2026. With demand expected to be back to pre-COVID levels in 2024, that means there will still be quite decent demand in 2022-2023 so SQ will need its A380s back in the air by say 2023.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 120

I think there will be a lot more focus on yield rather than capacity wars for at least the first few years after this crisis. I think the timing works out for them. But time will tell. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685

@PERflyer,

Alan was talking at a public conference yesterday - and has made his first major confirmation that the A380-800's will return to QF's fleet. He did not specify exactly how many but reports of his speech allude to a minimum of 6, to be allocated between LHR and LAX. Other ports will be eligible, providing they 'can generate cash' [formal quote].

It would be obvious, with QF having written down the absolute fleet value on two separate occasions, that these frames will definitely generate cash. Also, given the reduction in staff costs and operational overhead, there can be no doubt. But the timeline and estimations of passenger travel return is yet unknown - in the relative short-term.

Of course, Alan wasn't silly enough to give dates or numbers. A sensible, pandemic-averse reaction. And also, the consideration of how many of the 6 un-refurbed frames to bring back needs to be factored, and when?

Even presuming QF gives 'Project Sunrise' the go-ahead at the end of this year, delivery of new A350's would seem to be 2024 at best. If international travel is to start returning from the end of this year, QF will not be able to wait for 3 years to service it's network. 

Given QF's shortage of long haul frames smaller than the A380 (ie: the B787-9's), these Boeing frames will not be able to cover the entire QF network. The obvious station - other than LHR and LAX - will be DFW, which consumes 2 frames daily. 

It is obvious that Johannesburg and Santiago, Chile need frames to service them on a daily basis - given that the B747-400/ER's are now gone. And given the state of South African Airways, it may even be possible that the A380 could find itself on the JNB run. How / when / if QF chooses to compete with LATAM (no longer a oneworld carrier) on SCL may also see QF service the route with the A380, initially with a less than daily offering, to account for COVID.

So, in reality, QF was always going to bring these A380's back. 2024 was always a good COVID estimation but that now looks like it may eventually be revised to something closer to 2022.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 120

Some good points you raise Kimshep. However I am not as confident of listening to Alan as you are though and I read the article here at the time. Remember he is bound by many factors. It would not be good for him to say the A380 is finished now even if that was the plan for many reasons. The impact on Senior crews, Unions, ASX, being unprepared in the event of a unexpected earlier bounce back etc etc to name a few. He is just hedging his bets and rightly so as there is so many unknowns  

I hope to be wrong but I think in 5 years time EK will be the only A380 operator which is a sad thing. Buts it’s business at the end of the day if the numbers don’t add up they don’t add up. Ultimately time will tell. 

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1409

Perflyer Qantas tend to milk depreciation and use the full life, so they will probably  stretch the last six A380s to 2030 by which time they will have a full fleet of 10-15 A359s perhaps some with some more seats for more regional higher capacity routes such as Singapore and Tokyo, even Hong Kong.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 120

Also I might add the Qantas international fleet is not as short as you might think it is. With VA A330’s gone from PER - SYD/MEL/BNE Qantas have no widebody / flat bed business class competition on the coast to coast route. This allows them the ability to put A330’s that would normally be on Perth services onto Asia international services with a competitive J cabin product.  Use the 787 on US / UK / Europe and they are set until they order the 350’s. The 787 is the perfect money maker SYD/MEL/BNE to the USA. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685

Apologies - loathe as I am to cite external references, the report of Alan's speech can be found on FlightGlobal.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

Hi Kimshep - that forum you refer to was actually a week ago, and we covered Alan's remarks (on both the prospects for the return of the A380s as well as a mooted 2024 start for Sunrise) here: https://www.executivetraveller.com/news/qantas-project-sunrise-airbus-a350-order

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685

Thanks David - I had read the ET article but couldn't recall where those two paragraphs came from. 

The general community opinion seems to (incorrectly) be that QF will not bring the A380's back, and the FG article actually cited the Eurocontrol event specifically.

I have to say that I am delighted (and unsurprised) that QF will bring them back. QF's investment in the A380 was huge and the prospect of them writing off frames so young and retiring the entire fleet was always a 'challenge' to logic, particularly with the Australian taxation laws on depreciation on frames vis a vis Singapore's more liberal regimen..

It actually indicates how comparatively well QF has been able to weather the COVID situation, while being heavily restricted by effectively having to shut down it's international network. Unfortunately, SQ had been experiencing significantly tougher financial outflows, despite similar capital raisings. 

Back to the article at hand, ultimately I suspect that SQ will work with the reduced family of 12 A380's, at least until the B777x's look to be in delivery sight. That is starting to increasingly look to be in the second half of the decade.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

QF A380s: my money is on the six refurb'd birds to bounce back in 2023, every year after that makes their return less likely. As Alan has said, the mighty write-downs really lend the superjumbos to being a raw revenue generator as long as all other factors (eg fuel, passenger numbers) fall in their favour.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 653

That ancient 777 will never be a true replacement for the A380. Tug-of-war between priorities; passengers or bean counters.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1272

The eventual winner of that battle is obvious.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1021

You have to wonder if SQ's existing plans for the new J class will be put on ice.  With the 779s unlikely to arrive in SQ colors for another 5 years, there is plenty of time to review and redo what they eventually release and incorporate the new technologies that may emerge in the meantime.  They realistically still have 3 years before they need to lockdown on a design.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

That's a very good point. SQ has yet to advise if the 777-9 deliveries have been pushed back beyond 2024 (although one suspects this is very much the case) and under normal circumstances the seats would have been pretty much locked down by now, but the longer away the 777-9s are, there may well be scope for the intended seats to be at least updated (keeping same designer, manufacturer and perhaps base model but tweaking to modernise, adding new touches like wireless charging if that wasn't already in the original spec).

26 Jul 2015

Total posts 68

I'll miss the A380 Suite's. Even the original one was great. Oh well, the world moves on I guess.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 461

All this talk about what will happen with the QF A380s is pure speculation. QF will bring the A380s back if and when demand requires them. That's the only metric that will matter - can they sell enough tickets (at the right prices) to fill those aircraft? If the answer is "yes", then the A380s will be back, in whatever quantity is necessary to meet the demand. 

None of us has a crystal ball that tells us if/when that demand will be there. My own opinion is that, after most people are vaccinated in Australia, the UK and US, virus cases will drop hugely and governments will drop quarantine and border restrictions. At that point, demand for air travel will rebound. My best guess is that will start to happen from late 2021/early 2022. And demand for travel to LHR and LAX| will probably be close to 'normal' levels by some time in 2023.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1409

Right on the money John!!! 

20 May 2020

Total posts 6

This thread ignores the availability of almost new 787s being available from lessors and failed airlines. Think Norwegian as one source and there are many others. QANTAS do buy used planes - e.g. the 767s from BA.  And Boeing have a number of "white tails".

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1021

The thread ignores the availability of 787s for QF because it is about 779s for SQ!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685

@Roy

1. I agree with Reeves35 comment below.

2. Whilst the QF acquisition of the BA B767's worked well, the later acquisition of 3 B747-400's (1 Asiana, 2 Malaysian) wasn't anywhere near as successful. The frames were known throughout QF (and by a lot of passengers) as "the 3 ugly sisters" given their non-standard (QF) galley fitout and a comparative tendency to be regular hangar-queens.

3. I agree that there are a lot of almost new B787's being available. However, when airlines and lease owners are holding them for sale, trying to compete against Boeing white-tails means that neither will be cheap. Leasing companies will have difficulty placing returned frames with new airline customers (demand is not there yet) or for sale, whereas Boeing will have a critical need to clear backlog whitetails in order to address their current (and substantial) debt financing.


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