Emirates Airlines announced it will commerce operations from Dubai International Airport (DXB) to Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City (7,463 nautical miles) starting on February 1, 2016.
This flight will put the Middle Eastern airline just 10 miles ahead of the current king of the longest flight – Qantas Airways’ Sydney Airport (SYD) to Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport (DFW) – refer to our coverage here. Singapore Airlines used to hold this title when it flew between its hub at Changi Airport (SIN) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). It looks to regain the title with the modified Airbus A350 by 2018. Find out more below.
Singapore Airlines started non-stop direct flights to Los Angeles International Airport and EWR in 2004 with four-engine Airbus A340-500 aircrafts. This is Airbus’ longest range aircraft currently and is designed with a maximum range of 8,670 nautical miles (nm).
When it started operations, Singapore Airlines touted the benefits of reducing travel between the two city pairs by up to four hours.
Although the aircraft is technically capable to fly the distance without additional fuel stops, geography between the destinations increases the likelihood of encountering head winds during winter operations. As such, Singapore Airlines specifically configured its aircrafts with a premium economy (refer to our coverage of the airline’s debut of this class here) and Raffles® (business) class cabins initially with only 189 total seats (this is significantly lower than the aircraft’s typical 2-class total) and allows the aircraft to fly at a lower weight (with the extra fuel tank as insurance).
When fuel prices increased between mid to late 2000s, the Southeast Asian airline modified the cabin to only Raffles Class with 100 seats.
However, a combination of continued fuel price concerns and with a constrained cabin capacity, Singapore Airlines ended EWR and LAX flights on November 23 and October 20, 2013 respectively.
Singapore Airlines has a firm order of 63 Airbus A350-900s to be delivered starting in 2016. This aircraft has the maximum range of 7,750nm currently. The airline is looking for Airbus to modify this variant to give it more range while capable of carrying up to 325 passengers with a 25% lower fuel burn.
Given its geographic location, the airline competes directly with full service airlines from:
- Asia – Cathay Pacific Airways, Japan Airlines (JL) and Korean Air Lines etc for passengers from North America to Asia
- Europe – British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa German Group etc for passengers from Asia to Europe
- Middle East – Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways for passengers from Asia to Africa and Europe (less so to North America).
In order to compete more effectively, Singapore Airlines needs aircrafts that have the range and speed to transfer passengers through one-stop transit via Singapore. This is especially the case when worldwide competitors are catching up or eclipsed the airline in on-board product (The airline was the first to introduce suites in an aircraft in 2006. However, there are now more than 10 airlines with a similar product currently) and service (Etihad Airways has butlers for its residence class passengers).
At the time of publication, Airbus has not released the final designs for this longer range A350-900 variant. While Singapore Airlines will likely be the first to receive such variant, look for others to convert their options for this as well.
It is vital that Singapore Airlines works closely with Airbus in designing and obtaining exclusive rights to long range A350-900s to better compete with the rest of the world. In doing so, expect the airline to reinstate non-stop flights to LAX and EWR and announce new North American routes (likely candidates include Star Alliance partner hubs at George Bush International Airport (IAH), O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)).
In future posts, we will discuss in details how Singapore Airlines can stay competitive as neighbors Thai Airways (TG) and Malaysia Airlines (MH) struggle to shrink into regional airlines.
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