7 Rumored Ultra Longhaul Routes To The US — Will They Happen?

Filed Under: Garuda Indonesia, Oman Air

While you’d think this would have been the case all along, the past several years airlines around the world seem to be run more like businesses than vanity projects. Of course there are still some exceptions, but increasingly we’re seeing airlines cut unprofitable routes, rather than continue to fly them for “prestige.”

At the same time, the A350 and 787 have made lots of routes possible that weren’t previously practical. The planes are fuel efficient, long range, and fairly low capacity, so they’ve opened up routes like Tokyo to Boston, London to Austin, etc.

With that in mind, a lot of airline executives like to talk a big game when it comes to launching new routes, but often these new routes don’t actually come to fruition. New ultra longhaul routes excite me, so I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the new proposed routes to the US that we’ve heard airline executives suggest they might launch in the past 1-2 years, and look at the status of those routes.

I’ll share the basics of what I heard, along with what I think the odds are of the routes actually starting. In no particular order:

Oman Air from Muscat to New York

Last February an Oman Air executive was quoted as saying that the airline wanted to fly nonstop from Muscat to New York by 2018. Oman Air’s new CEO has confirmed the airline doesn’t plan on operating this flight, as they’d get more use out of their planes operating them on shorter routes.

So I think it’s fairly safe to assume this route isn’t happening.

RwandAir from Kigali to New York

Last November I first heard rumors of Rwandair wanting to start flights between Kigali and the US, and it seems like they’re doubling down on this. Just last month RwandAir confirmed that they plan on launching flights to New York as of August 2018, pending government approval.

When you look at the financial performance of other airlines in Africa, along with RwandAir’s small route network, it seems highly unlikely that this route will ever make money. So can they afford to launch a prestige route like this?

Something tells me that they’ll come to their senses on this route before launching it, realizing that they have other markets where they stand better chances of making money, or at least losing less money.

Thai Airways from Bangkok to the US

Last July the Bangkok Post reported that Thai Airways wanted to add flights to Seattle or San Francisco once Thailand’s safety rating was improved. Thai Airways used to fly nonstop from Bangkok to New York and Los Angeles, though the routes lost a bunch of money. Then they instead operated a one-stop service from Bangkok to Los Angeles via a third city (at one point it operated via Osaka, and at another point via Seoul Incheon). However, at that point they had no competitive advantage over all the other airlines offering one stop service between Los Angeles and Bangkok.

Personally I don’t see this route actually happening. Thailand is a pretty low yield market, so this would be a tough ultra longhaul flight on which to turn a profit. Then again, I could see it happening as a prestige route, but can the airline really afford that?

Vietnam Airlines from Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles

Last September Vietnam Airlines ordered more A350-900s, and in the Airbus press release it was stated that the airline wants to use the planes to fly nonstop from Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles. I think the situation is much the same as Thai Airways’. Vietnam is a fairly low yield market, so I don’t see them turning a profit on the route.

But who knows, the A350 is an efficient plane, and maybe that’s something they’re still willing to give a try. The airline has been growing a lot, after all.

Garuda Indonesia from Jakarta to Los Angeles (via Tokyo)

This one is a real mystery. Last June Garuda Indonesia announced that they wanted to start flights between Jakarta and the US. Then in February the airline formally requested permission with the DOT to operate the flight 3x weekly as of November 2017, from Jakarta to Los Angeles via Tokyo Narita.

I love Garuda Indonesia, but there’s no way in hell they’d make money on this route, especially given that they don’t have a competitive advantage since they’re making a stop enroute to Jakarta anyway. So while I’d selfishly love to see it, it just doesn’t seem to be economically viable.

It’s weird that they’ve gone so far as to request permission with the DOT, only to not follow through with it. Something tells me the route will still happen, it just won’t make any money.

Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Newark/Los Angeles

Singapore Airlines used to fly nonstop from Singapore to both Newark and Los Angeles using A340-500 aircraft, though they discontinued the route in 2013, when they got rid of those planes. Singapore Airlines plans to restart these flights in 2018, when they take delivery of their first A350-900ULR aircraft.

I think it’s a given that this will actually happen, as they specifically ordered the planes for that purpose.

In the meantime Singapore Airlines has even launched nonstop flights from San Francisco to Singapore, though that was a competitive response to United launching service in the same market. That’s as far as the range on the non-ULR A350 goes, though.

So I expect this route will be launched as announced.

Qantas from Sydney to New York

This is the latest rumored route. Qantas’ CEO recently announced that Qantas wants to start nonstop flights from Sydney to New York and Sydney to London by 2022. The catch is that there’s not a plane that is presently capable of operating the route with a full passenger load. So he has given a challenge to Airbus and Boeing to give their next generation aircraft the range to make the route possible. Whether or not that’s actually going to happen is anyone’s guess.

I certainly think that if Airbus or Boeing come up with a plane that works for this, Qantas will start the route. This of course assumes fuel prices don’t increase.

Bottom line

The A350 and 787 open up a lot of routes that weren’t otherwise feasible. At the same time, perhaps they make some airlines overly optimistic in terms of which routes make sense and which don’t. I’ll be curious to see which of the above routes are actually launched. Personally I think the Singapore route is more or less certain, the Garuda Indonesia route is likely, the Thai, Vietnam, and RwandAir routes are unlikely but possible, the Oman Air route isn’t happening, and the Qantas route is too technology dependent to really know.

What do you make of these rumored US routes?

  1. @ lucky – not sure how in depth you can get about it, but would love a post about operating cost of a flight.

  2. Disagree with Vietnam Airlines being low yield. The US has the largest population of Vietnamese immigrants as a result of the Vietnam War. LA area has a population of over 100k Vietnamese immigrants as well as San Jose. Think this will be a very popular route.

  3. @ Ad Revenue — Popular doesn’t equal high yield. Just take a look at fares from Los Angeles to Ho Chi Minh City. They’re $500-600 year-round.

  4. Good article and good analysis. I do miss those Thai Airways flights. Given how ridiculously cheap airfares are right now — eye-popping low fares to Asia and Europe — one really does wonder how these routes could be profitable.

    Personally I’d love to see the RwandAir flight happen.

  5. There is a lot of speculation on the Singapore Airlines routes with the A359ULR since they have 6 on order. New York and LA are a given (that requires 4 planes to operate those routes). But lots of speculation on where the other 2 planes will go: possible that they’ll assign them to SFO for better operating performance over the A359, or perhaps a new route to the US (my guess is Chicago).

    When Singapore Airlines had the A340-500’s they only had 5 of the type in the fleet, always having a spare handy.

    Time will tell I guess, but with United launching LAX non-stop from Singapore soon, Singapore Airlines will be playing catchup.

  6. I would also add DL to the list: Singapore to Seattle with the A359 (pure speculation at this stage).

    The NRT-SIN flight on DL -as much as I love it as a 5th freedom flight- isn’t competitive and with DL drawing down intra-Asia flights from NRT, it’s only a matter of time I think till we see them go non-stop from SIN to US. Seattle is the logical city that gets the service.

  7. Why do airlines and/or Airbus&Boeing focus on long-dostance? What about speed? Would love to see Paris-NY in 5 hours or London-Singapore in less than 10 hours.

    One can dream

  8. Wish SQ would (could) use the A350 to launch NYC service now as a fifth freedom route through SFO, just as Cathay does via Vancouver. Flying EWR or JFK to SFO in Singapore Suites? One can dream….

  9. @RB

    Airliners cruising at about Mach 0.85 have pretty much reached the upper limit of what is technically feasible for subsonic aircraft. Flight in the transonic zone is extremely turbulent as different parts of the wing experience subsonic and supersonic airflow and their disparate properties simultaneously. Drag increases dramatically, significantly affecting fuel efficiency.

    Supersonic aircraft face insurmountable political (noise pollution) and economic (tiny market willing to pay $20k+ to get between NYC and LON ~3 hours faster) barriers.

  10. As part of the ‘fly over’ in New Orleans, a city with a very large Vietnamese population, I’d love to see a nonstop Vietnam Airlines flight from the West Coast to HCM City.

    Having a single change of plane in the US to that nonstop would make what is otherwise a scheduling challenge into a practical option. End of journey plane changes are usually a physical challenge, so this itinerary would be a much better scheduling option.

  11. @patrick — here’s a basic breakdown of all the costs and revenues of a flight, with VN’s rumoured SGN-LAX flight as an example.

    We start with the cost of the plane itself and the fact that it needs to be replaced later on. Assuming that an A350 will last 25 years and that the aircraft costs $311.2 million, that gives one an average cost of $12.45 million dollars/year, and a total cost of $34,191/day.

    Now we go onto the fuel required to power such a massive plane over such a long distance. Based on my estimates (sourced off of AirlineSim), a 359 will need 106,875 litres of fuel. Per the US Energy Information Administration, one gallon of Jet A1 costs $1.51. Converting litres to gallons, we find that one needs 28,233 gallons of fuel which would cost a total of $42,631.

    With more help from AirlineSim (whose prices on things like ATC are accurate for the most part), we find that miscellaneous expenses like:
    – ATC: $2,995/flight
    – Landing Fees: $775/flight
    – Maintenance: $12,000/flight
    – Aircraft Handling: $685/flight
    – Crew Costs: $4,525/flight
    – Meals: $35/passenger in Y and $75/passenger in J ($11,835 total)

    This gives us a total cost estimate of $109,637. Of course, this is only an estimate due to the approximation involved in both Airlinesim’s provided costs and other expenses not included.

    As Ben has already said, the average cost for a roundtrip from SGN-HKG averages between $500-600 in Y. Assuming VN could charge a small price premium for Y due to the non-stop nature, we could see a cost like $600 r/t or $300/seat/trip. With a full flight, this would result in $69,300 in revenue in the back. W fares average about $1500 r/t for a total gain of $67,500 in the premium economy cabin. J fares average $2300 r/t thanks to CZ, however, it’s likely a non-stop could warrant average fares as high as $2600 r/t. With a full J cabin, that would bring in $75,400. Therefore, the estimated total revenue from all cabins combined would be $212,200. However, this is only an estimate and both only applies when flights are full, and does not address that the same seat may cost wildly different amounts based on both time of purchase and the origin and destination of the passenger.

    I’m not really sure if this is the answer, seeing as this is a rough estimate. But, it does provide the idea that assuming VN plays it right and gets full loads, profits are possible. However, that may not happen based on low yields.

  12. Jakarta-Tokyo-Los Angeles is “ultra-longhaul”? Which of the two segments do you consider ULH?

  13. There’s a huge Vietnamese population in Los Angeles so I can see the route happening. SQ operates flights from LAX-INC-SIN so I could see Garuda making money because many Indonesians take the SQ routes with 2 stops

  14. SQ operates flights from LAX-INC-SIN so I could see Garuda making money because many Indonesians take the SQ routes with 2 stops

  15. @ Ejg239 – SFO-JFK on SQ wouldn’t be considered a fifth freedom route (and SQ wouldn’t be able to sell tickets solely for the SFO-JFK sector). The reason CX works to JFK via YVR is that is considered an international “fifth freedom” flight; so SQ could do a flight via Canada if they wanted although not gonna happen as it has been ages since SQ operated a flight to Canada and they have no interest in returning it seems.

    The only time I can recall a foreign airline operating a domestic US route like the one you suggested was Qantas from LAX-JFK back in the day. They didn’t have rights to LAX-JFK so you had to be coming/going onwards from LAX on an international ticket with QF in order to fly it.

    If you’re curious about freedoms of the air and definitions, Wikipedia has a good explainer on it:

  16. BKK-SFO/LAX wouldn’t be low yield when it’s the only nonstop option. I’m surprised United didn’t go after this route before Singapore.

  17. BKK/SGN/HAN-LAX/SFO are all shorter than SIN-SFO. With some higher MTOW A350s (already available) these routes could easily be done if they want a denser config, since TG and VN already have A350s on order they could swap for some heavier versions et voila ! Nonstop flights !

    They can even commend a premium in business class for the convenience (Whilst these routes are considered low yielding, I’ve seen flights to Singapore go for less than Thailand or Singapore (by a considerable margin).

  18. Latam service LIM ORD to connect with one world service at Chicago Ohare. No direct service available to Peru from Chicago area and with Cuzco building a new international airport seems like this could be opportune time for expanded service from USA to Peru.

  19. I did that JFK-BKK flight back in the day. My company had a special travel agency for when we traveled internationally (which we got to do in Biz) who always found ways to save money, but also always seemed to do so via weird routings.

    On that trip, I flew JFK-BKK-MEL-SIN-FRA-JFK and Thai, while decent, wasn’t nearly as good an experience as Singapore, but was slightly better than Lufthansa. For whatever weird reason, the RTW fare was cheaper than the RT on Thai.

    I later flew EWR-SIN-PER-SIN-EWR for another meeting and found the experience on Singapore’s version of the same A340-500 much better than Thai’s.

  20. I’ve always been surprised that Cathay Pacific doesn’t start an HKG-SEA flight with an A-350. It’s the biggest west coast market they don’t serve, with a lot of major tech companies with ties to Asia based there. Plus, the Alaska hub would give them a lot of feed from smaller markets.

  21. Bill,

    Here’s 3 more.

    Delhi – Washington (DEL-IAD) on Air India. This actually started on July 7th, 2017.

    Hong Kong -Washington (HKG-IAD) on Cathay Pacific. CX passed on Dulles in favor of Boston in 2014, but there are rumors they are giving it another look with the A350.

    Tel Aviv – Washington (TLV-IAD) on El Al. Not quite ultra long range, but now feasible with the 787.

  22. @LUCKY – you forgot to mention TG once flew their MD11 to SEA.
    The current AS Board room, prior to that AA lounge was recreated from the original
    TG lounge.

  23. Seoul inchon to Oliver Tambo JNB Asiana A350 XWB ULR

    Delhi Sao Paolo Air india 77L

    It makes sense to stop over enroute.
    5th freedom rights make sense. EK goes Athens to Newark. All these American Greeks ( Wo..) fly the route. Lots of passengers. It services a underserved market.

    Other underserved ultra long haul routes are:

    NRT Sao Paolo
    Bangkok NEW YORK
    Beijing JNB
    Bangkok Santiago
    Dhaka LosAngeles
    Auckland London

  24. Delhi – SĆ£o Paulo doesnt makes sense, there will be no pax.

    Narita – SĆ£o Paulo yes. SĆ£o Paulo has the largest Japanese comunity aboard Japan. It used to be done by JAL 747 GRU-JFK-NRT but since 9/11 we Brazilian need an US Visa just to make a stop in US the most usual route nowadays is through Dubai.

  25. Unless I missed something, Thailand is still rated as category 2 by the FAA re safety, meaning no new services, and hence for TG no service to the US.

    You also mention SQ and SIN-LAX/NYC. SIN-LAX will definitely happen in October on United flying a 787-9.

  26. Garuda is in the midst of a cost cutting process, one that includes pulling most of its A330-200 aircraft from service.

    Let me explain.
    The airline received 11 A330-200 jets from 2009 onwards, 3 of which were returned from lease and entered service with Beijing Capital. The remaining 8 are just sort of sitting in Jakarta doing nothing, flying once a week, maybe twice. You can check this on FR24. it’s being theorized that the A330s, which were flying domestic routes as of last month, aren’t doing so well due to a weak economy in Indonesia, so GA is just parking most of them until their lease expires. The few A330-200 routes that do, do well, which includes Jakarta Singapore, Seoul and Melbourne, are being up gauged to the new series A330-300.

    Also, this is a shocker, but GA actually still flies the old series A330-300 it acquired in the 90s, in an all economy configuration.

  27. So I expect that LAX won’t happen until market conditions improve. Same with the Moscow route they announced a couple months back.

  28. @CR I also think Chicago is the likely third nonstop destination. It’s a UA hub, and it’s a financial hub like Singapore. Just think though how much money could SQ have saved if they were using 77L instead of A345 in the past?

  29. Thai is the one that puzzles me the most. For years they had such a strong following out of LA. And, Lucky, for most of the years the stop to BKK was actually Narita. That Tokyo flight was actually quite nice, well timed, and with wonderful service. I had also used the LAX to BKK flight on a few occasions and it was always full (but the A340 was never able to turn a profit given the fuel aspect and not the loads). I do think there is great potential for them and not only is Thailand a destination itself of course but feeds well to certain areas of China (Kunming) as well as resort areas, emerging markets like Vietnam, etc. I am not sure where this safety rating thing you mention is for Thai? I never heard that they were downgraded – as in fact they have run many training centers for pilots and have done maintenance in Asia for other airlines including Bhutan’s Druk Air. But, I might have missed this.

  30. @Stuart it’s not Thai Airways itself, but rather Thailand as a country. In that airlines based in Thailand are unable to start operations into the US anymore as Thailand is now FAA Category 2

  31. As many commenters have said I think the Vietnam Airlines route would actually have a good chance of working.

    It’s not just the ethnic population base in LA (and the US in general) it’s the rapidly growing business ties, and Saigon has been one of the more exciting cities in Asia in terms of business growth for years. I would be surprised if Vietnam Airlines didn’t ty this out.

  32. I read in AA magazine once that 1/3 of the fuel for DFW-NRT was needed to carry the weight of the fuel for such a long flight.

  33. NRT-GRU is almost 11,500 miles and doubt any aircraft carrying passengers will be capable to fly that far. The distance is more than SYD-LON or equivalent to NYC-PER.

  34. @ejg239 – SIN-JFK will probably be operated on a polar route and the polar route does not get anywhere near SFO.

  35. Speaking of airlines doing things for “prestige” and “pride”, it’s quite interesting to know what Air India did back in the day (which of course now explains their financial turmoil). The airline has vast land holdings, 32 acres in central Mumbai, iconic headquarters in prime real estate of Marine Drive, Mumbai, 30-acre housing colony in the posh Vasant Vihar locality in south Delhi surrounded by embassies and villas. It has properties in London, Hong Kong, Nairobi, Japan and Mauritius. And thatā€™s just a partial listing.

    Along with this the airline management were art enthusiasts. The airline owns about 750 paintings of high profile painters (some which also got lost), used to own FOUR (!!) landing slots at Heathrow, about thirty hangars in India and a couple of hotels in Delhi and Srinagar.

    Of course the current management do seem to be changing all this. Some of the above may have been liquidated by now and a lot of checks would have been placed on all this spending since they are showing small profits! šŸ™‚

  36. I still think United eventually will start IAD to JNB nonstop using a 787-9 that can handle both the distance and JNB elevation. Just a matter of the economy in SA. If DL can make ATL-JNB work, thereā€™s no reason UA canā€™t do it with better feed, especially as it begins to reorient IAD for more connecting traffic over EWR.

  37. It’s so interesting to see how much has changed or how many of these flights have started with regards to the rumors. Exciting.

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