Airbus has seen widespread popularity for its newest A350 long-haul aircraft. But only one carrier so far – Singapore Airlines – has found the need for an ultra long-range version of the A350 that can fly almost 10,000 non-stop miles from Singapore to New York, and that airline has ordered just seven of the special jets.
Seven aircraft is a tiny number when one considers the economies of scale inherent to airplane manufacturing.
The secret? Well, it turns out that it’s not that much trouble to soup up this hot rod.
The ULR doesn’t require additional fuel tanks over the standard A350-900, but instead uses additional space already available in the existing tanks to carry an extra 6,340 gallons of fuel to take its range to 9,700 nautical miles, or 1,600 more than the standard A350-900.
"For us, it’s really just a -900," Marisa Lucas-Ugena, Airbus’ A350 marketing director, reveals.
“The only thing that is really specific for the ULR is the additional fuel. And even on that, we are using the space we already have. It’s really just a minor evolution of that system with additional piping and additional venting.”
The changes to make an A350-900 into the ULR have “no impact” on the production lines in Toulouse, France, Lucas-Ugena added, with the manufacturing time the same for both versions. Airbus aims to churn out ten A350s a month by year’s end, and currently has 832 orders for the A350 family.
If a total order of seven ULRs seems low, well, it’s of no consequence at Airbus. Says Lucas-Ugena: “It doesn’t really matter – we want to sell more A350s.”
Singapore Airlines' purchase of the ULR variants is part of a larger order of 67 A350s – a sizable request from a 40-year customer that makes any extra customization work palatable for a supplier.
It already flies the standard A350-900 on its current nonstop route to San Francisco, a flight of almost 17 hours, but Airbus says the ULR can stay aloft for more than 20 hours at a time.
The carrier expects to receive its first A350-900ULR in September, ahead of commencing its nonstop flights to New York on October 11. The airline will also use the plane to fly nonstop to Los Angeles and potentially a third North American destination.