The blue-ribbon Southeast Asian carrier will serve Seattle with an Airbus jet — but it has placed substantial Boeing orders for jets to fly to many of its wide-ranging international routes.
Singapore Airlines will add nonstop service between Singapore and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport next year, part of a substantial expansion of its U.S. routes made possible by a new, long-range Airbus jet.
But don’t worry, Boeing.
The airline also has big plans for Boeing’s 777X, 787-10 and 737 MAX jets, said Mak Swee Wah, executive vice president.
After years of heavy competition from giant Gulf carrier Emirates led to losses last year, the blue-ribbon Southeast Asian carrier is resuming growth. In July, padding Singapore’s reputation for luxurious interiors and superior cabin service, the annual Skytrax awards based on passenger surveys named it 2018’s “World’s Best Airline.”
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Mak said the airline chose Seattle as its fourth U.S. nonstop destination, after San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, for its rapid growth and presence of big corporations.
“We see a lot of potential, not just from business traffic but also from the leisure and visiting-friends-and-relatives markets,” he said in an interview.
At Sea-Tac, Singapore will partner with Alaska Airlines, a partner at Los Angeles and San Francisco, to provide U.S. domestic connections.
Mak said the Airbus A350-900 has opened up the almost 9,300-mile direct route to Sea-Tac, with flying time just short of 16 hours from Seattle to Singapore and almost 15 hours on the reverse leg from Asia.
“We now have an aircraft that will allow us to do these nonstop services to the U.S. in an economical way,” Mak said.
Early last month, Singapore launched what’s the world’s longest commercial flight, between Singapore and New York, a flight just shy of 19 hours. On Friday, the airline launches nonstop service between Singapore and Los Angeles.
For those two routes, the airline is flying the ultra-long-range version of the jet, for which it is the launch customer. The A350-900ULR features fewer seats — carrying 161 passengers — and extra fuel tanks.
For the Seattle nonstop service, scheduled to begin Sept. 3, 2019, it will fly the normal variant of the jet, the same one flying between Singapore and San Francisco, carrying 253 passengers in three classes. The airline is also increasing its Singapore-San Francisco service to 10 flights a week, from seven.
Mak called the A350-900 a “game-changer.”
Singapore earlier tried flying nonstop to New York and Los Angeles using the four-engine, fuel-guzzling Airbus A340, but canceled those services in 2013 when the routes lost money.
The A350-900 “has the range,” Mak said. “More importantly, it has the economics.”
Expansive plans include Airbus and Boeing
Yet Mak made it clear that Boeing is far from shut out of Singapore’s long-haul plans.
The airline has a firm order for 20 of Boeing’s 777-9X jets, which are a size larger in terms of passenger capacity than the A350-900. Mak said the 777-9X should be seen as the airplane that will replace Singapore’s fleet of 777-300ERs.
The 777-9X “will be an important airplane to fly to long-haul destinations when a bigger capacity is required,” he said. “Our fleet plan calls for both aircraft, the A350-900 and the 777-9X.”
With its widebody jet fleet, Singapore is a major customer for both manufacturers. So its choices among the airplanes available or proposed by Airbus and Boeing for different missions are influential in the aviation world.
From Airbus, Singapore operates 19 superjumbo A380s and 19 A330s, plus 25 of the A350-900s with 42 more on firm order.
When Singapore got rid of its first five A380 superjumbos after the initial 10-year leases ended in 2017, the industry interpreted that as the beginning of the end for the slow-selling Airbus giant.
Mak said those five early-built models were less efficient. And he said that although Singapore doesn’t need more than the 19 superjumbos it has left, the airline plans to keep the planes in service.
Singapore has announced an investment of $850 million to refit the earliest 14 of the remaining superjumbos with the same upgraded cabin suites as the latest five.
“These aircraft will serve for many years to come,” Mak said.
From Boeing, Singapore operates 45 current 777s with those 777-9Xs to come, plus six 787-10s with another 43 on order.
The 787-10s are “performing extremely well,” he said.
In addition, Singapore’s short-haul regional unit SilkAir, which is being folded back into the parent airline, operates five single-aisle 737 MAXs, with 32 more on order.
And its low-cost subsidiary Scoot flies 18 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, with two more on firm order.
Mak said these varying-size airplanes will serve different markets, with the A380 superjumbo serving megacity routes, the 777-9X for less dense but large markets, and the A350-900 one size down again.
And Singapore’s pending orders earmark the 787-10 as the preferred plane for intermediate-range markets within Asia and Australia, and the 737 MAX for shorter haul routes.
“Each has its own mission,” Mak said.
The verdicts reflected in these choices support Boeing’s broad product lineup, with the A350 as the only big winner for Airbus. It’s that one you’ll see in Singapore livery next year at Sea-Tac.