image

Aviation

Now boarding: Singapore Airlines resumes the world’s longest commercial flight as it expands US presence

Singapore Airlines abandoned the Newark and Los Angeles routes in 2013 when high fuel prices made the use of four-engine Airbus A340-500 jets uneconomic. It has since flown to New York’s JFK Airport via Frankfurt and to Los Angeles via Tokyo and Seoul

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 October, 2018, 10:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 October, 2018, 4:00pm

Passengers were getting ready to board the world’s longest flight on Thursday – a marathon 19 hours in the air between Singapore and New York.

Two pilots, a special “wellness” menu and more than seven weeks’ worth of film and television entertainment were expected to accompany travellers on the 16,700km journey to the Big Apple.

Singapore Airlines Flight SQ22 will use the long-range Airbus A350-900ULR, configured to carry 161 passengers – 67 in business class and 94 in premium economy.

The five longest non-stop flights in the world (revised): is Mars next?

The route, combined with the airline’s plans to restart non-stop services to Los Angeles and add more non-stop flights to San Francisco next month, will give the premium Asian carrier its biggest ever US presence.

For the flight crew – which also includes two first officers and a 13-strong cabin contingent – the workload will be broken up, the airline said, with every person getting a mandatory minimum four hours’ rest. But for passengers, the challenge will be what to do with all that down time up in the air.

For those not packing a weighty novel (or two), there will be 1,200 hours of audio-visual entertainment to choose from.

Dining options will include dishes the airline says have been selected to promote well-being in the skies, with organic dishes on the menu.

The cabin has higher-than-normal ceilings, larger windows and lighting designed to reduce jet lag – all part of an effort to lessen the stresses that can accompany almost a day on a plane.

“Research has shown that hydration and food intake are important factors [to consider], such as avoiding foods that cause gas or bloating as well as excessive alcohol,” said Rhenu Bhuller, a health care expert at consultancy Frost & Sullivan.

“The biggest concern is Deep Vein Thrombosis from a combination of sitting for too long and also from dehydration,” said Gail Cross, an associate consultant at the National University Hospital in Singapore.

We expect Singapore Airlines to regain market share, especially in the premium travel market
Corrine Png, Crucial Perspective

The twin-engined plane that will make the journey uses a modified system that burns 25 per cent less fuel compared to other aircraft of a similar size, Airbus said.

The flight from the city state to Newark Airport can take up to 18 hours and 45 minutes under normal weather, but the pilots will have something in reserve in an aircraft capable of flying more than 20 hours non-stop.

Singapore Airlines originally flew the route for nine years using the gas-guzzling, four-engine A340-500 before abandoning it in 2013 because high oil prices made the service unprofitable. But the carrier is hoping that the introduction of more fuel-efficient planes will set cash registers ringing even as crude prices soar above US$80.

Thursday’s flight will top the current longest direct link between cities – Qatar Airways Flight 921 from Auckland to Doha, which takes 17 hours 40 minutes, but Australia’s Qantas Airways is considering the introduction of an even longer 20-hour Sydney-London flight from 2022.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways and Taiwan’s EVA Airways compete with one-stop Singapore-US offerings.

“It’s turning out to be a race between a few airlines eyeing the longest routes intercontinentally,” said Shukor Yusof of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics. “They are hoping to capitalise and exploit a very niche market.”

Facing increasingly strong competition in recent years, Singapore Airlines has consolidated its low-fare subsidiaries and is strengthening its premium segment.

“Ultra-long haul services comprise an important component of that strategy,” an airline spokesman said.

The company is the first airline in the world to operate the A350-900ULR plane. It received the first aircraft in September. Six more are due for delivery by the end of the year.

Why Cathay Pacific won't challenge Singapore Airlines’ ultra long-haul flights

“We are optimistic about the demand for non-stop services to the US,” the spokesman said.

Singapore Airlines had abandoned the marathon Newark and Los Angeles routes in 2013 when high fuel prices made the use of four-engine Airbus A340-500 jets uneconomic. It has since flown to New York’s JFK Airport via Frankfurt and to Los Angeles via Tokyo and Seoul.

The airline’s revenue contribution from the Americas region is currently at 14 per cent, down from 20 per cent in 2013 due to the loss of the non-stop flights, Corrine Png, CEO of transport research firm Crucial Perspective, said.

“Operating trans-Pacific connecting flights opened Singapore Airlines to a lot more competition from other carriers and resulted in the loss of high-yielding business traffic,” she said. “We expect Singapore Airlines to regain market share, especially in the premium travel market.”

Additional reporting by Reuters