Singapore Airlines' resumption of nonstop services to Newark and Los Angeles represents a major bet on premium traffic and will shake up rivals such as Cathay Pacific and United Airlines.

With the arrival of the Airbus A350-900ULR in its fleet, the two routes are poised for a comeback after they were axed in 2013.

The A350-900ULR features a modified fuel system that boosts the jet's fuel capacity by 24,000 litres (6,340USgal) without additional tanks. It has a range of 9,700nm (18,000km), and a maximum take-off weight of 280t.

To show off its capability, the delivery flight of the first example (9V-SGA) dispensed with the 12h great circle route from Toulouse to Singapore, and instead took a 16h 30min polar route. When SIA receives all seven, the type will be used to fly daily to Newark, 10 times weekly to Los Angeles, and three times weekly to San Francisco.

The Singapore-Newark route will be the world's longest at 9,000nm, and take some 18h 45min. However impressive the ULR's performance, even more impressive is the major bet SIA is taking on premium traffic to North America, given that the new jet dispenses with economy class, equipped with 67 business class and 94 premium economy seats.


The inclusion of premium economy was no doubt influenced by SIA's experience with the A340-500. Originally configured with 64 business and 117 premium economy seats, in 2008 SIA eliminated premium economy and added 36 business-class seats. Its timing could have been better: the all premium decision was made as the world slid towards a global financial crisis, which gutted premium traffic to New York at a time when fuel prices were rising.

While the configuration of the new, fuel-efficient ULRs should be more sustainable, their configuration and deployment represents a hefty bet in the premium market.

After dropping its direct Newark service, SIA continued to serve New York John F. Kennedy with a daily A380 service via Frankfurt. SIA has plenty of competition: FlightGlobal Diio schedules suggest that carriers such as Cathay Pacific, United Airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates, EVA Air, and China Eastern are active between Singapore and the New York area through their respective hubs.

On average, SIA's A380s have 76 business-class seats and 38 in premium economy, giving it 532 business-class and 266 premium-economy seats on Singapore-Frankfurt-New York JFK every week. When SIA reaches full daily Newark service with the ULR on 18 October, it will boost SIA's business-class seats on the route by 88% to about 1,000, with premium economy capacity more than tripling to 924 seats.

A350-900ULR capacity boost SIA

The numbers will be equally dramatic on the West Coast. Despite the demise of its A340-500 service to Los Angeles in 2013, SIA remained firmly entrenched in this market. It operates twice daily to Los Angeles with Boeing 777-300ERs via Seoul and Tokyo Narita and offers a daily 777-300ER service to San Francisco via Hong Kong. It also flies a daily nonstop service with an A350-900 in a standard 253-seat configuration, with 42 business, 24 premium economy, and 187 economy seats.

That sees it compete with United Airlines, which flies nonstop between San Francisco and Singapore with a 787-9, which will rise to twice daily in October after the carrier cuts its nonstop Los Angeles-Singapore service.


FlightGlobal Diio schedules indicate that, in addition to United, one-stop rivals from Singapore to San Francisco include EVA, Cathay Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and All Nippon Airlines. These and other north Asian carriers also compete with one-stop services on the Singapore-Los Angeles market.

For the time being, SIA operates two services daily to Los Angeles via Incheon and Narita with Boeing 777-300ERs, providing about 658 business-class and 392 premium economy seats per week on the Singapore-Los Angeles market.

On SIA's direct Singapore-Los Angeles route, which it will serve 10 times weekly from 7 December, the ULR will double its business-class seats to about 1,328 per week, and more than triple its premium-economy seats to 1,332. The arrival of the ULR will, however, see the cessation of the Seoul-Los Angeles service.

On Singapore-San Francisco, the three-times-weekly ULR service will complement the daily nonstop flights with the baseline A350-900, and its daily 777-300ER service via Hong Kong. Despite only flying three times weekly, the new ULR service will boost its business-class seats on the city pair by 32% to 824, and premium-economy seats by 77% to 646.

"We have pushed the limits with this highly-advanced new aircraft to extend long-range flying to new lengths," says SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong. He may well have added that the new type also has the same impact on premium flying.

Source: Cirium Dashboard