ANALYSIS: SIA's future regional fleet strikes fine balance

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Singapore Airlines' orders for Airbus A350s and Boeing 787-10s will ensure that the carrier has a smooth transition to a new generation of regional aircraft over the next decade.

Sources have indicated that the airline will take some of its 70 A350s on order with de-rated engines and a lower maximum take-off weight (MTOW) for use on short- and medium-haul routes.

The airline is also a launch customer for the medium-haul optimised 787-10, with 30 of the type on order.

Both the 787-10 and A350-900 are similar in size with nominal counts of 330 and 314 seats in a three-class configuration. With the regional A350 configuration, they will also have similar range capabilities.

So why would SIA choose to order both types, rather than focus on one?

For one, it seems that the airline wants to maintain the status quo of using two types for its regional services. It now uses Boeing 777s and Airbus A330-300s.

SIA, has for many years, used Rolls-Royce Trent 800-powered Boeing 777-200ERs and -300s as its regional workhorses. In the case of the -200ERs, they received a software change to the engines similar to that proposed for the regional A350 version.

Flightglobal's Ascend Online database shows that SIA now has 30 777-200s in its fleet, of which, 10 have started undergoing a long-haul cabin refit, effectively leaving 20 aircraft in the regional fleet. It also has seven 777-300s, although these aircraft differ from the others as they have a three-class, 284 seat layout.

More recently, the airline has added the A330 to its fleet. Flightglobal Ascend shows that the airline now has 22 in service, with 12 more to be delivered by the end of 2014. All but two aircraft are on operating leases, and even those two are expected to be delivered under a sale and leaseback arrangement.

Interestingly, the A330s have 285 seats in a two-class layout, similar to the 777s, which are configured for 256-323 seats. Flightmaps Analytics shows that the two types are often used interchangeably on a number of regional routes.

Singapore Airlines routes operated by A330s

(Source: Flightmaps Analytics)

Singapore Airlines routes operated by 777-200s

(Source: Flightmaps Analytics)

 

As the 777 has a higher MTOW than the A330, SIA uses that type to carry more cargo on certain routes, while the lighter A330 is used on services where cargo is less of a priority.

As the A350s will be delivered from 2015 to 2023, it seems that they will most likely replace the 777-200s and -300s.

This likely means that the 787-10s, which will be delivered between 2018 and 2022, will more directly replace the A330s as they come to the end of their leases.

SIA also has the option to move the aircraft around, between it and low-cost, long-haul arm Scoot. Scoot has taken over SIA's order for 20 787-9s, and the 787-10 would be able to neatly fit into its operations should it require a larger option in future.

In the short term, however, Scoot appears to want smaller aircraft. Chief executive Campbell Wilson told Flightglobal last year that the airline would likely convert some of its 787 order to include the smaller -8 variant. Sources at the airline have also indicated that its current aircraft type, the 403-seat 777-200s, is too big for a number of its routes.

Overall, with both 787s and A350s in its orderbook, SIA will maintain its flexibility to match aircraft to the right routes on its wide-ranging regional network.