This month, Singapore Airlines relaunched flagship non-stop service between Newark Liberty International Airport and its home base in Changi Airport in Singapore using its new Airbus A350-900 ULR jets. Now, passengers flying between the Big Apple and Lion City will no longer have to make a stop in Europe, cutting several hours off their trip.
The record-breaking flight covers more than 10,000 miles and can last up to 19 hours depending on conditions.
“It’s a fantastic day for us to reinstate this service which is a flagship route in our network,” Singapore Airlines senior vice president of sales and marketing, Campbell Wilson told Business Insider. “The fact that it happens to be the longest is sort of immaterial to the fact that it’s something our customers have long asked for and it really does provide a meaningful benefit to them with respect to time-saving and avoiding the inconvenience of transit.”
But for Singapore Airlines, the importance of the route reaches far beyond the news making nature of its duration.
In recent years, the airline’s rivals have built up a really lucrative business by connecting South Asia and Southeast Asia with destinations in North America. Unfortunately, Singapore’s geography has prevented the airline from effectively fighting back.
“One of the big constraints we have faced being based in Southeast Asia and trying to serve North America is that because of the technical inability to fly nonstop, we have had to have an intermediate (transit) point,” Wilson said.
For example, Singapore’s service to JFK International Airport stops in Frankfurt, Germany before continuing on to New York.
These fifth freedom routes are a rarity because it involves Singapore Airlines selling tickets on flights between two foreign countries. In this case, the US and Germany.
(A fifth freedom flight is an airline’s service between two foreign countries that either begins or ends in a third country.)
Countries tend to be very restrictive when it comes to allowing an interloper to do business on routes operated by their own airlines, limiting Singapore’s ability to grow its service to North America.
“Countries quite jealously guard the rights from their hubs, so at best we can fly daily on these fifth freedom legs,” the veteran airline executive explained.
And that’s where the new Airbus jet comes back into the picture.
“The ULR changes the game in the sense that we no are now no longer constrained these fifth freedom limitations,” Wilson told us.
Singapore Airlines previously operated non-stop service to Newark from 2004 until 2013 using the Airbus A340-500. But high fuel prices and inefficient aircraft made the flight economically unfeasible.
“The A340-500 is a four-engined aircraft designed in the 90s and purchased when fuel was $19 a barrel but when fuel increased $119 a barrel the technological limitations of that time was exposed,” Wilson explained. “So we said to Airbus if you build an aircraft that is modern generation and can operate the route economically, we’ll take it.”
The result is the A350-900 ULR or ultra long range.
“The trigger to re-introducing this flight was the availability of this aircraft,” Wilson added. “It is the only one that is, in our view, capable of doing this mission economically.”
Singapore is the only carrier in the world with these special aircraft. It’s based on the ultra-modern A350-900, but modified to carry an additional 6,300 gallons of fuel. This increases the aircraft’s range from 9,300 miles to 11,100 miles and allows Singapore to comfortably fly non-stop to North America with a full load of 161 passengers and cargo.
According to Wilson, who previously served as the CEO of Scoot, Singapore’s low-cost long-haul airline, The ULR’s ultra-efficient engines and aerodynamics help it deliver 25% less fuel compared to the previous one.
“With fuel being 30% to 40% of an airline’s costs, those are significant savings especially on such a route where you are consuming a lot of fuel and you are burning fuel and carrying fuel for the last part of the trip,” Wilson said.
The Newark/New York flight is just the first in a series of new routes Singapore plans to launch to North America using the ULR. In fact, non-stop service to Los Angeles and San Francisco are expected to launch in November.