Singapore flew non-stop Newark – Singapore as the longest flight in the world onboard an Airbus A340-500. They also flew Los Angeles – Singapore non-stop, and Thai Airways flew New York JFK – Bangkok using that plane type.
The Singapore Airlines ultra-long haul flights were originally operated in two cabin configuration, and changed to all business class service. The goal was selling fewer seats at a significant premium. The economics didn’t work.
The A340-500 was more or less a flying gas can. And carrying so much fuel for such a long distance means carrying more fuel to handle the weight of that fuel. As the price of avgas rose, operating costs of the plane became worse and worse.
Eventually all three of those flights came to and end.
Singapore Airlines of course offers a fantastic product. Onboard their A380 they pioneered ‘Suites Class’.
They have what I consider to be the best main meals in the sky, especially with their ‘Book the Cook’ program (though I believe they’re lacking in midflight snack service).
The staple of their fleet, the the 777, has an outstanding business class as well.
Singapore, though, is at a real disadvantage in the U.S. market because of the distance between the US and Singapore. Singapore is an inferior option compared to Cathay Pacific flying between the US and Southeast Asia. That’s because from any city that Cathay Pacific serves it’s two flights to anywhere — for Singapore Airlines it’s three flights to reach destinations other than Singapore and the cities the airline flies to enroute to Singapore (Frankfurt, Houston, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong).
From everywhere except Houston (which Singapore serves and Cathay Pacific does not), Cathay Pacific gets you where you’re going with the same or fewer flights than Singapore Airlines does — because Singapore, no longer operating the A340-500, cannot fly non-stop to Singapore.
So Singapore Airlines is talking to both Boeing and Airbus about the possibility of an aircraft with the range to fly non-stop between the US and Singapore — new ‘longest flights in the world’.
Delta flies a Boeing 777-200LR Atlanta – Johannesburg, and pushes the envelope on that plane’s range. Los Angeles – Singapore is a few hundred miles longer, with greater stretches over ocean and greater distances from a diversion airport. Newark – Singapore would be over a thousand miles longer than Atlanta-Johannesburg. So the 777-200LR, while an amazing aircraft, doesn’t quite work for Singapore. (Qantas flies an A380 Sydney – Dallas, two hundred miles shorter than Los Angeles – Singapore.)
A new plane isn’t going to make economic sense for Singapore Airlines alone, they aren’t going to drive the market for aircraft based on their US flights alone. Perhaps they’d ultimately take delivery of a dozen or fifteen planes, not enough to justify the development costs. Other carriers would have to show interest in ultra long haul flying for relatively thin markets.
Singapore’s other option is a hub in a city (and country!) other than Singapore. They do have investments in several airlines. But the size of Singapore itself, and its location, is naturally limiting as far as growth in certain markets. The airline realizes that, seems to be frustrated by it.
Now if only the US would eliminate foreign ownership restrictions and we could get a little Singapore Airlines goodness in the US (alongside, in all likelihood, Ryanair — so it wouldn’t all be a passenger experience improvement).