SIA to get its first A-350 in January

Mr Tan Pee Teck, with SIA's new A-350, which is being painted in the carrier's colours at the Airbus paint shop in Toulouse, France, yesterday. The airline has 63 A-350s on order. After the first jet arrives in January, another 10 are scheduled to be
Mr Tan Pee Teck, with SIA's new A-350, which is being painted in the carrier's colours at the Airbus paint shop in Toulouse, France, yesterday. The airline has 63 A-350s on order. After the first jet arrives in January, another 10 are scheduled to be delivered by the end of next year.ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Carrier to start flights to Amsterdam in April; fuel-efficient jets expected to improve yields

Singapore Airlines (SIA) will pick up its first Airbus 350 jet in January, with another 10 to be delivered by the end of next year. Commercial services are slated to start in April to Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The carrier will also decide "soon" whether or not to resume non-stop flights to the United States, said its senior vice-president (product and services) Tan Pee Teck.

SIA, which stopped flying non-stop to Los Angeles and New York two years ago due to high costs, is in talks with European plane maker Airbus and its US rival Boeing on developing a more efficient jet that can operate the routes viably.

For now, the carrier, which faces tough competition from rivals such as Cathay Pacific and Emirates, is confident the A-350 twin-aisle planes will improve operating economics - especially for long-haul services, said Mr Tan.

The A-350 is touted by its European maker to be 25 per cent more fuel efficient than rival aircraft in the same category. It can carry more than 300 passengers in a three- class layout.

Speaking to reporters at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, yesterday, Mr Tan said the arrival of the A-350s will "reinforce our place in the full-service market".

Despite facing challenges, SIA is "no way ready to cede leadership to other players", he stressed.

He did not reveal SIA's configuration, but it is likely to be a three-class aircraft with business, premium economy and economy seats. There will be just over 300 seats, about the same as on the Boeing 777s that the new Airbus aircraft will replace.

The airline has ordered 63 A-350s, with deliveries to be spread over five years.

The arrival of the A-350s will mark a significant milestone for SIA, which has been unable to grow its long-haul premium business in the last few years because of low yields from intense competition.

While its profits from April to June doubled to $91.2 million, this was due mainly to lower fuel costs and better performance by associate companies.

SIA's chief executive Goh Choon Phong told reporters earlier this year: "Like it or not, the reality is that the current fleet is simply not as efficient when it comes to long-haul operations... With the new (A-350) planes, we will have more opportunities to look at how to expand long-haul (services)."

Apart from aircraft renewal, SIA also focuses on other key elements such as great service both in the air and on the ground, and an extensive network of destinations and partnerships with other carriers, Mr Tan said. He was in Toulouse to witness the finishing touches being put on the first A-350 to be fully painted in SIA colours.

Once in the air, the A-350 promises not just operating efficiencies but easy maintenance as well, said Airbus head of A-350 product marketing Maria-Luisa Lucas-Ugena.

More than half of the plane, by weight, is made up of carbon-fibre composite materials, and another 14 per cent of titanium.

This delays corrosion and fatigue, "the biggest nightmare for maintenance", which means the first heavy checks need to be done only after 12 years instead of the usual six years, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'SIA to get its first A-350 in January'. Print Edition | Subscribe