Singapore Airlines receives plane for world’s longest flight

If you thought the Perth to London flight was long, wait until you see what Singapore Airlines can do with its new Airbus – capable of flying for 20 hours.

The airline has announced that it has ordered seven Airbus A350-900ULRs, a plane capable of more than 15,000km in range, or about 9,000 nautical miles.

ULR fittingly stands for ‘ultra-long range’, capable of flying further than any other commercial aircraft.

“Today’s delivery is a milestone for Airbus and Singapore Airlines, as together we open a new chapter in non-stop air travel,” said Tom Enders, Airbus’ CEO.

“With its unrivalled range and step-change in fuel efficiency, the A350 is uniquely placed to meet demand for new ultra-long-haul services.

“The combination of the A350’s quiet, spacious cabin and SIA’s world-renowned in-flight product will ensure the highest levels of passenger comfort on the world’s very longest routes.”

The plane’s maiden flight will take place on 11 October from Singapore to Newark Liberty airport in New Jersey, labelled flight SQ 22.

The route will take 18 hours and 25 minutes, and a premium economy seat (the lowest class available) will cost over $3,580 SGD at the time of writing, or about $3,600 AUD.

Previously, this route would have taken over 20 hours, stopping in a major east-Asian hub such as Tokyo or Hong Kong, depending on the airline.

By contrast, the world’s longest current direct aeroplane route is from Auckland to Doha on Qatar Airways, covering 14,535km and taking at least 17 hours and 40 minutes.

Qantas’ famed Perth to London Heathrow route takes 17 hours and 20 minutes, and covers 14,499km.

Qantas has thrown down the gauntlet for other airlines and manufacturers in a longest route race, promising 20-hour direct flights from London to Sydney by 2022. This route will use Airbus’ A350 or Boeing’s 777X.

Fuel use a big issue on long-haul routes

Airbus gave aerodynamic tweaks to its new A350 to yield an extra 1,600 miles of range, yet it’s only capable of holding about 67 seats in business and 94 seats in economy.

The conundrum is that the bigger the plane, the less fuel-efficient it becomes, and the larger the fuel tank needs to be, making the issue a never-ending cycle.

The largest commercial plane in the world is the Airbus A380 Super Jumbo, seating up to 500 passengers.

Airlines commonly use fuel economy per passenger as a means of measuring overall efficiency. The Super Jumbo scores 65 miles to the gallon per passenger (or about 3.6L/100km per passenger).

“It takes fuel to carry fuel,” an Airbus spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal.

Planes can cut down on weight by reducing seats, but that would likely drive ticket prices up.

From 2004 to 2013, Singapore Airlines flew from Newark to Shanghai on an Airbus A340-500. According to The Guardian, that flight consumed 220,000 litres of fuel, 10 times the weight of the 181 passengers on board.

The flight’s distance covered 8,900 nautical miles and flew over the North Pole, and was discontinued due to revenue losses.

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