SIA to start world's longest flight before year end

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is expected to pick up its new ultra-long-range aircraft in the third quarter of the year, with non-stop flights to New York due to be launched before the year's end.

The 19-hour flight will see SIA reclaim the title of running the world's longest non-stop flight - an honour it held with its Singapore-Newark flight from 2004 to 2013.

The airline is also expected to start non-stop services to Los Angeles - a flight that takes more than 15 hours - next year, The Straits Times understands.

Both routes will be served by SIA's new Airbus A350-900ULR aircraft and are expected to come in a two-class configuration, with business and premium economy seats.

When contacted, an SIA spokesman said: "Following the first flight of the ultra-long-range aircraft, SIA is looking forward to launching our own flights before the end of the year. We expect to be able to announce the first destination within the next few weeks."

The A350-900ULR aircraft did its first test flight on Monday, an almost five-hour round trip that took off from the Airbus facility in Toulouse, France.

The aircraft is built to fly up to 11,160 miles (about 18,000km), an increase of more than 1,800 miles over the standard A-350.

For SIA, which has ordered seven of the planes, the launch of the Singapore-New York service will mark a significant milestone in the resumption of its non-stop flights to the United States, which the airline axed in 2013 after about a decade of operations.

The flights to Newark and Los Angeles were started in 2004, but the 2008 global financial crisis, coupled with rising fuel prices, made the routes unsustainable.

At the time, SIA operated the routes with the four-engine Airbus A340-500.

In October 2016, the airline started flying non-stop between Singapore and San Francisco - a service that can be operated with the A350-900 aircraft and does not require the ultra-long-range variant.

Currently, Qatar Airways, which operates an 18-hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand, to its home in Doha, operates the world's longest non-stop flight.

Coming in at a close second is United Airlines' Los Angeles to Singapore flight at just under 18 hours.

Third is Australia's Qantas, which recently launched a Perth-London service that gets passengers to Britain in 171/2 hours.

While there is clearly a demand for ultra-long-haul flights, especially from business travellers, airlines will continue to also offer one-stop flights, industry experts said.

Mr Richard Johnson, travel management firm CWT Solutions Group's director for Asia-Pacific, said: "The new generation of aircraft servicing ultra-long-haul routes is designed to have a more pleasant cabin experience that reduces traveller fatigue, which can improve productivity and well-being.

"When combined with the option to travel and work for a longer period uninterrupted by having to change aircraft, it makes a strong case for ultra-long-haul flights to be a direct contributor to a more effective workforce."

Still, there will always be those who prefer to have their journeys broken up by a stopover in between, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline 'SIA to start world's longest flight before year end'. Print Edition | Subscribe