BUSINESS TIMES Sat, Jun 20, 2015
SINGAPORE] Singapore Airlines Ltd (SIA) is impatient to restore nonstop flights to the US.
The airline is in talks with Airbus Group SE and Boeing Co on developing a plane with new technology that would allow it to fly nonstop to the US profitably, SIA chief executive officer Goh Choon Phong said. In 2013, the carrier stopped the 19-hour trip from Singapore to New York, adding about five more hours to travel between the cities.
"We, of course, want it as soon as possible," Mr Goh said in an interview with Bloomberg Television's Haslinda Amin. "There isn't really a commercially viable aircraft that could fly nonstop."
Reviving nonstop flights to the US will help the carrier fill a gap in its network that's benefiting Asia-Pacific rivals Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd and Qantas Airways Ltd. The all-business-class daily flights from Singapore to Los Angeles and Newark, New Jersey, ended as the routes were not profitable with aircraft that flew with four engines, analysts said.
"It's really a question of economics," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at Fairfax, Virginia-based aerospace consultant Teal Group. "The last generation of very long-range jets, particularly the A340-500, was simply not efficient, which is what killed Singapore's Newark service."
The carrier stopped the service using a four-engine, 100-seat Airbus A340-500 in November 2013 after ending flights to Los Angeles from the city-state a month earlier. Using an aircraft with two engines would be more economical than one with four because it's designed for efficient long-range flights, Mr Aboulafia said.
The Newark service was about 16,700 kilometres long, while the Los Angeles flight was more than 14,000 kilometres.
Airbus and Boeing both offer planes with twin engines. Airbus's A350, which entered commercial service in January with Qatar Airways, can travel up to 15,100 kilometres non stop.
Boeing's 777-200LRs can fly 8,625 nautical miles. The 777X, an upgraded model that the US. company is pushing to be the No 1 choice among large wide-body jetliners, will be designed to fly more than 9,300 nautical miles, according to its website. The 777X isn't in operation yet.
Qantas's flight from Sydney to Dallas Fort Worth, a journey of about 13,800 kilometres, using an Airbus A380 superjumbo, is the current longest nonstop commercial route by distance. Qantas replaced the Boeing 747 jumbo for that route starting September 2014.
The Singapore carrier currently flies to four US cities - Los Angeles and San Francisco via Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo; and New York via Frankfurt and Houston with a stop in Moscow. SIA flies A380s and Boeing 777s to the US.
Cathay has services to five US cities, including direct flights to San Francisco.
Mr Goh didn't identify the US cities for direct flights by SIA in future.
"There is lack of viable intermediate points," Mr Goh said. "That's largely because the countries concerned are not really giving us the rights to operate what we call the fifth freedom from those points to the US." The fifth freedom right in aviation allows an airline to fly between two foreign countries on a flight originating from or ending in its own country.
SIA is looking for ways to address these issues. One of them is increasing its partnership with other airlines, including Air New Zealand Ltd and Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd, to offer more destinations.
The airline also plans to develop hubs outside Singapore to give it a broader network connectivity. It has a carrier with Tata Sons Ltd in India and a budget venture in Thailand.
"We're among the earlier adopters of new technology," Mr Goh said. "That certainly puts us in a very good position to compete and also to take advantage of those technology to serve new points."