Singapore Airlines’ Next A350-900ULR Route?

Filed Under: Singapore

Singapore Airlines currently operates the world’s longest range plane, the A350-900ULR (with the “ULR” standing for “ultra long range”). Currently they exclusively fly these planes from Singapore to Los Angeles, Newark, and San Francisco. You can read a review of the world’s longest flight from Singapore to Newark here.

Well, it looks like some changes may be in store for how Singapore Airlines uses these planes.

What Makes Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULRs Special

Not only is the A350-900ULR the longest range plane in the world, but Singapore Airlines configured these planes in a special way. Singapore’s A350-900ULRs feature just a total of 161 seats, including 67 business class seats and 94 premium economy seats.

This very sparse configuration serves two purposes:

  • In order to make these flights profitable, they need high yield passengers, and generally you’re going to find better yields in premium cabins
  • The sparse configuration minimizes the weight of the plane, which maximizes the range

Singapore Airlines’ Current A350-900ULR Routes

As mentioned above, currently Singapore Airlines operates their fleet of seven A350-900ULRs to Los Angeles, Newark, and San Francisco. They fly these planes:

  • 10x weekly between Singapore and Los Angeles
  • 7x weekly between Singapore and Newark
  • 3x weekly between Singapore and San Francisco; note that in the case of SFO, Singapore Airlines can operate this flight with a “regular” A350-900, which is what they use for their standard daily flight, and then they just complement that with a 3x weekly A350-900ULR

As it stands, the Los Angeles and Newark routes can realistically only be operated by the A350-900ULR, so they don’t really have much of a choice there.

Meanwhile in the case of the San Francisco route, the standard A350-900 can make the flight as well, as it operates the route daily. Their decision to fly the A350-900ULR 3x weekly is all about the premium demand, rather than about necessity. Or at a minimum it’s due to lack of better options for the plane… at least up until now.

Singapore Airlines Cutting LAX & SFO A350-900ULRs

Mainly Miles notes some interesting changes that Singapore Airlines has planned for the winter 2020 schedule. According to Singapore Airlines’ schedule filing for next year:

  • Singapore Airlines is reducing nonstop Singapore to Los Angeles service from 10x weekly to 7x weekly
  • Singapore Airlines is swapping 3x weekly nonstop Singapore to San Francisco A350-900ULR service to a “regular” A350-900, which represents an increase in overall capacity, but a decrease in business class and premium economy capacity

In other words, at that point Singapore Airlines will have seven A350-900ULRs, but they’ll only be operating daily flights to Los Angeles and Newark. Those routes could be operated with just four planes, plus maybe an extra spare.


A350-900ULR business class cabin

Is A New A350-900ULR Route On The Horizon?

Clearly Singapore Airlines has something up their sleeve here, because with their current schedule they’ll have at least two spare A350-900ULRs.

While Singapore Airlines first announced the Los Angeles and Newark flights, there were always rumors that they’d add a third A350-900ULR route. Many of us were surprised when they ended up using it on the San Francisco route, since the plane wasn’t actually needed for that.

At the time I speculated that the third destination would be Chicago or Toronto, and that still seems like the most likely outcome to me.

There are of course some other possibilities. It could be that the airline reconfigures these planes into different configurations, which on one hand would be quite a waste, but at the same time maybe these routes aren’t working quite as well as they had hoped? It does really seem like they’re struggling with premium economy on these planes.

Massive A350-900ULR premium economy cabin

Bottom Line

As of next October, Singapore Airlines is reducing A350-900ULR service to Los Angeles, and cutting it to San Francisco. That should free up two A350-900ULRs, which is enough to launch an additional ultra long haul route.

My money is still on Chicago or Toronto finally happening, though who knows, maybe we’ll be surprised.

What do you think Singapore Airlines has up their sleeve here?

Comments
  1. How about Buenos Aires? I realize the premium market isn’t there, but would love direct Asia to South America service!

  2. I thought Los Angeles was closer to Singapore because it is South of San Francisco? Would it not be possible using a standard -900? United is able to run it via the 787-9; no reason why the A350 wouldn’t be able to make it.

  3. Does SIN—>EWR actually fly westbound like on the map picture?? Or is it just how the app or program shows it. I thought It would of went East on takeoff from Singapore.

  4. @Brian – LAX is just over 300 miles further from Singapore than SF. I would wager SQ is taking a penalty on flying the regular a350-900 to SFO, unless they have a MTOW increase that makes it possible. The list range for the vanilla -900 is 8100 miles. SFO is just a hair over 8400 miles. They are pushing the limits of the range on that flight, which is why the -ULR is necessary for the extra 300 miles to LAX. Remember, the earth is round, not flat, so a straight line between two destinations isn’t what you’d think it is. See the map Lucky posted in the article for the actual straight line route. It appears as an arc because of how the globe is projected on a flat map.

  5. @Kyall, in northern winter, the EWR-SIN flight typicall flies all Eastbound thanks to strong northern hemisphere winds. It will fly over Europe and central Asia on its way from EWR to SIN, and over the Pacific on its way from SIN to EWR. In northern Summer, it often flies Eastbound on the SIN-EWR leg, and then due north, and then due south over the polar ice cap from EWR-SIN, because winds aren’t as strong.

  6. Could anyone explain why these planes have no first class at all? I’d dare say the demand is there. Thanks 🙂

  7. Supporting the Toronto theory:
    Toronto is a much bigger population area than Chicago and is Canada’s busiest hub, nearly all StarAlliance.
    Traffic to Asia from Toronto is very significantly higher than from Chicago, even when connecting passengers are counted.
    Carriers have good loads to Asia, including premium rev passengers.
    CX, which had the advantage of incumbency and reputation for premium standards, is struggling and their premium revs, looking for alternatives, are currently finding only AC and EVA. CX has always been a OneWorld anomaly in a StarAlliance city here in Toronto.
    Canadians travelling overseas will often avoid a US connection if they have a choice.
    Canadians travelling overseas will often avoid AC metal if they have a choice.
    Canadians with high points balances have most of their points in Aeroplan.

    Toronto seems more likely.

  8. @DenB: Chicago’s metropolitan population is 9.5 million people (MSA – Metropolitan Statistical Area). Toronto’s metropolitan population is 5.9 million (CMA – Census Metropolitan Area). If you include the golden horseshoe around Lake Ontario, the population Toronto Pearson airport serves rises to 9.3 million people. All in all though, there is no case to be made that “Toronto is a much bigger population area than Chicago”.

  9. @Justin you are right, obviously. My bad, I planned to edit that sentence before submitting, to include a phrase like “asia-connected” or “asia-related”, but forgot to go back before Submitting. This platform doesn’t allow edits after publishing 🙁

    My point is that Toronto offers more warm bodies for Asia flights than Chicago does. Ride the Toronto subway, then visit suburban shopping centres, then wander the halls of YYZ. Asian faces abound to a much greater degree than in Chicago or ORD.

    I’ll measure twice, cut once, next time I write here! I know you’ll be watching @Justin 🙂

  10. Do not rule out IAD as a potential A350-900ULR route.

    However, I think a non-ULR that makes more sense for SQ would be 5th freedom between SIN-ZRH-ORD or SIN-ZRH-IAD. This would seriously compliment the other 5th freedom routes to the US they have currently.

    This would also serve as an additional SQ flight to ZRH landing in the evening local time given its a major star alliance hub.

  11. @DenB-Toronto metro is bigger than Chicago metro only if you include half of Canada. The actual metro is closer to Dallas-Ft. worth or DC/VA/MD.

  12. IAD is the darkhorse pick here IMO. Capitol to Capitol route plus a *A hub. If there was a fifth freedom, my guess wouldn’t be for ZRH but for CPH instead.

    SIA used to fly to IAD back in the day, but I can’t find any details on the flight info. Does anybody remember this?

  13. Any prospect with flights to SFO and maybe ORD that Singapore would try to bolster its currently very weak Star Alliance relations with United? I would welcome seeing them lock arms tighter if it meant making it easier to fly Singapore on United ticket stock or make the MileagePlus partnership stronger.

  14. Lucky, thanks for picking this up
    MM is an awesome “boutique” blog for (SE) Asian readers.
    Posted some comments on MM so I won’t repeat them here.

  15. My money’s on Chicago or DC (the DC flight would beat the EWR flight by a good 121 miles). Toronto just isn’t premium enough to warrant a steady all-premium nonstop route, and their diaspora are with the Chinese & Filipinos (hence securing Cathay’s foothold). Chicago has the strongest case imo, mainly because although DC is high-income, I just don’t see the same level of demand there

  16. Interesting points about YYZ & YVR – CX has that market cornered already
    SIN location is SE Asia makes it less appealing, vs. HKG (more N. Asia hence shorter distance)
    Also Canadian ties with SINGAPORE isn’t as … strong as US ties
    Just my S$0.02

  17. “DenB® : CX has always been a OneWorld anomaly in a StarAlliance city here in Toronto.”

    u serious ??? quote per wikipedia

    “Top 20 languages Toronto CMA, 2016 Population %
    English 3,061,820 52.0
    Cantonese 247,710 4.2
    Mandarin 227,085 3.9
    Panjabi (Punjabi) 171,230 2.9
    Italian 151,415 2.6
    Tagalog (Filipino) 136,115 2.3 ”

    The ethnic and business ties are huge between GTA and HKG. It’s only in past few years AC has somewhat closed the capacity gap against CX. Historically, CX has always been miles ahead, whether it was against Canadian Pacific to YVR or Air Canada to YYZ.

  18. i don’t see ORD or YYZ at all. The nonstop logically should be IAH, The frames spared from switching that to nonstop can be used to open another 5th freedom route. I’ll put my money on

    SIN-IAH becomes nonstop
    SIN-ICN-YVR is new 5th freedom
    SIN-MAN becomes terminating service.

  19. There is bad history between Canada and Singapore relating to flights. I don’t recall the details but believe it had to do with AC complaints against SQ. Toronto is well served by CX, EVA and PAL and others from Asia. AC will fight against more competition and the Canadian government will give in to them since they seem to abhor competition.

    SQ in the past few years cancelled one stop service to Vancouver and Chicago.

    SQ also had a brief recent run serving GRU unsuccessfully (Sao Paulo).

    So maybe Houston or DC.

  20. I thought because of Air Canada’s obstruction of Singapore Airlines from flying to Canada it won’t make sense as SQ won’t be able to feed into Air Canada’s network? But I hope it can be to Santiago Chile or Mexico City since there’s hardly any direct flights between Asia and south or Central America.

  21. Singapore Airlines made a facebook post of the attractions of Houston yesterday.

    I wonder if that has anything to do with the spares A350-900ULR 😉

  22. SINMEX would be super interesting, but I don’t think it will happen.
    BTW, Aeromexico flies to PVG and NRT, and NH do flies to MEX also.

    My bet would be ORD, as it has more Business travellers, and it is THE UA hub, can serve many SQ offline cities, while they don’t have to back track at EWR.

    While YYZ is mostly VFR traffic, which can’t sustain the all Premium Configuration of 359ULR.

  23. I flew Singapore airlines LAX-SIN premium economy and the service was just horrible. They didn’t even serve drinks with the meal service. Even water. The seat was ok. Both United and American s premium economy is much better in regards to service and food.

  24. I don’t get the math on the number of planes. How is it possible to operate daily flights to EWR and LAX with just 4 planes when flight times are 15+ hours?

  25. Imma guess…

    Toronto launched by SQ, Vancouver launched by AC.
    Or Bogota by SQ AV.

    I would think SQ would like to develop a relationship with AC having already done so with UA

  26. IAH is too far nonstop- over 10k if you do the Great Circle mapping.

    It’s Chicago or DC, or a second flight to Newark.

    @Robb- LOL- AA and in particular UA premium economy is terrible. There’s no comparison.

  27. I’m with Memento. Would love an Ord Asia direct alternative to United as the intl Pokaris experience has regressed significantly.

  28. It will be for SIN-JFK direct flight. When the service is on, the SIN-FRA-JFK aircraft will be replaced by B777-300ER (no longer with A380-800). It will mark the time when no SQ A380 serves the U.S.

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