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Airbus adds new A350-900 variant for Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900

Experience The Skies reported back two months ago (News – August 18, 2015) that Singapore Airlines is looking to reclaim the title of the longest flight. However, it will need help from Airbus to make it a reality.

Singapore Airlines and Airbus

It was announced that Singapore Airlines will be the launch customer for the ultra long version of the the A350-900 to be called A350-900ULR. The airline with the second biggest A350 firmed order at 67 will convert six into this variant. It has an additional 16 options available to convert to the -1000 or this variant.

A350-900 vs A350-900ULR  Differences

A350-900 A350-900ULR %     Increase
Fuel capacity 141,000 litres 165,000 litres 17.02%
Maximum Take Off  Weight (MTOW) 268 tonnes 280 tonnes 4.48%
Maximum Range 7,750 nautical miles 8,700 nautical miles 12.26%
Passengers count 314 – 3 class (First, Business, Economy)

315 – 2 class (Business, Economy)

440 – 1 class maximum

Year of Introduction January 2016 2018

The A350-900ULR incorporates a number of necessary changes over the standard A350-900 such as 1. installation of a higher capacity fuel system within the existing fuel tanks which saves time on adding new ones and 2. better aerodynamic details. This enables the aircraft to operate with an increase range of 12.26% and allows Singapore Airlines to fly non-stop to cities in the US east and west coast without sacrificing passenger or cargo loads like it did previously with the four engines Airbus A340-500.

“Our customers have been asking us to re-start non-stop Singapore-US flights and we are pleased that Airbus was able to offer the right aircraft to do so in a commercially viable manner,” said Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong. “This is another example of how we strive to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations by remaining at the forefront of product and service innovation in our industry. It will also further strengthen the Singapore hub by providing the fastest and most convenient air connectivity between North America and Southeast Asia.”

“We are excited to be working with Singapore Airlines to re-launch its premium non-stop service to the US,” said Fabrice Brégier, Airbus President & CEO. “The A350 is the perfect, flexible platform for such operations, offering unrivalled operating economics for the very longest routes. And the wider and quieter cabin will provide the perfect environment for passengers to enjoy the world-famous Singapore Airlines in-flight product.”

In other A350-900 news, the airline also announced it is on track to receive its first delivery in January 2016 and will feature the new Business Class product, Premium Economy (Cover Story) and Economy classes.

Singapore Airlines First Airbus A350-900
Singapore Airlines First Airbus A350-900 in Toulouse, France paint shop
Credit: BARCROFT MEDIA via Getty Images

It will follow by the inaugural flight to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) scheduled for sometime in April 2016. Currently, the flights are operated by a Boeing 777s and the new aircraft has not been loaded into the reservation systems yet.

Singapore Airlines A350-900 Deployment
The first destination to be served with the A350-900 is Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Analysis

Currently, Singapore Airlines operates to four North American cities with one stop in Asia or Europe using a combination Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 aircrafts:

  • Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) <> New York JFK International Airport (JFK) via Frankfurt Airport (FRA) [Airbus A380]
  • Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) <> George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) via Domodedovo International Airport (DME)[Boeing 777]
  • Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) <> San Francisco International Airport (SFO) via Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) [Boeing 777] or Incheon International Airport (ICN) [Boeing 777]
  • Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) <> Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) via Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) [Airbus A380]

With the increased range of more than 12%, all these routes can be flown without making any technical stops for fuel purposes as noted below:

A350-900 vs A350-900ULR
Aribus A350-900 vs A350-900ULR Range Comparison
Data: Great Circle Mapper

Additionally, destinations which were not available due to range or economics are now available. These include the following Top 30 2014 Top 30 Airports by Passengers destinations in the Americas not served by Singapore Airlines:

2014 Rank Airport Name IATA Airport Code Star Alliance Hub?
1 Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ATL No
7 O’Hare International Airport ORD Yes – United Airlines
9 Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport DFW No
18 Denver International Airport DEN Yes – United Airlines
24 Charlotte Douglas International Airport CLT No
25 McCarron International Airport LAS No
26 Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport PHX No
30 São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport GRU Yes – Avianca in Brazil

Note: No.29 Miami International Airport is not included because there is not enough range to fly to this airport from Singapore’s Changi Airport using the A350-900ULR. 

Other cities in the Americas that could be available to Singapore Airlines include: Vancouver (YVR)[1], Toronto (YYZ)[1], Boston (BOS), Washington DC (IAD), Newark (EWR)[1] .

[1] Served by the airline previously.

Economics

The all-new A350 Family aircrafts entered service this year with Qatar Airways being the first launch customer of the -900 variant (Cover Story). Airbus touted that the newer aerodynamic design, carbon fibre fuselage / wings and fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines contribute to better operational efficiency, up to a 25 per cent reduction in fuel burn / emissions, and lower maintenance costs compared to similar older aircrafts. The -900 variant can accommodate up to 314 passengers in a 3 class configuration (315 in 2 class) passengers. When Singapore Airlines operated ultra long flights to the US, it was only able to accommodate between 100-181 passengers. With the new aircraft, passenger capacity goes up between 74 to 315%. Singapore Airlines may now have the business cases to consider destinations that were not available.

While the Southeast Asian airline is the first customer for the new ULR variant, it does not have an exclusive hold on it. As such, expect other competitors with A350-900s ordered (especially those with ultra long operations like Qatar Airways (QR), Etihad Airways (EY) and Cathay Pacific Airways(CX)) to take advantage of this option.

It might also sway an order from Emirates is delaying its order decision between the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787 until 2016 (Source). As a comparison, Boeing’s 777-200LR and 787-9 only has a range of 8,555 and 7,635nm respectively.  The first has a comparable range with the A350-900ULR but has a reduced payload.  The latter has a similar seat count but has less range.

 

2 thoughts on “Airbus adds new A350-900 variant for Singapore Airlines

  1. Why didn’t SA go with the 7778X? It has same range + more pax and payload? Was it a time constraint thing? The ULR beats the 8X to market by 3-4 years.

    1. SAA issued an Request for Proposal for 23 long haul aircrafts back in 2013. However, they withdrew the plans until their financial recovery efforts are completed. Given they use mostly Airbuses for their long haul operations, it is more likely that they would order A350s instead. The ULR variant would suit SAA’s needs.

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