NEWARK — On Friday, Singapore Airlines will once again take the claim of operating the world’s longest commercial flight when flight SQ21 makes its return connecting Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN), nonstop.

Clocking in at a staggering 18 hours and 45 minutes, the flight will overtake Qatar Airways’ 17 hour and 40 minute Auckland to Doha route as the world’s longest commercial flight.

“Singapore Airlines has always taken pride in pushing the boundaries to provide the best possible travel convenience for our customers, and we are pleased to be leading the way with these new non-stop flights using the latest-technology, ultra-long-range Airbus A350-900ULR,” said Singapore Airlines’ CEO, Goh Choon Phong.

“The flights will offer our customers the fastest way to travel between the two cities – in great comfort, together with Singapore Airlines’ legendary service – and will help boost connectivity to and through the Singapore hub.”

Looking back at Singapore’s A340-500 Service

While Singapore Airlines had previously operated nonstop flights from Singapore to Newark beginning in 2004, it did so with a specially configured Airbus A340-500, initially with a mix of business class and economy seats, and finally in 2008, in an all business class configuration.

Although the A340-500 successfully operated the route for nine years, the inefficient engines on the A340-500, high costs of fuel at the time, and low yields led to Singapore axing the route in November of 2013. Los Angeles non-stops to Singapore were axed as well. 

AirlineReporter: Longest Flight in the World on the Singapore A340-500

Images from the now retired Singapore A340-500 taken in 2007 by Chris Sloan

To relaunch this historic route, Singapore will utilize Airbus’ latest ultra-long-range aircraft, the Airbus A350-900ULR.

With a listed range of 9,700 nautical miles, the A350-900ULR allows Singapore Airlines to once again serve the greater New York City area with nonstop flights.

Although Singapore has not flown to Newark since canceling flight 21 in 2013, the airline has continued to serve New York-JFK via Frankfurt with the Airbus A380.

Including a one hour and 30 minute stop in Frankfurt, it currently takes 21 hours and 35 minutes to fly from New York to Singapore.

The A350-900ULR will shave off 2 hours and 50 minutes of blocked time.

Even with the reintroduction of flight 21 to Newark, Singapore does not plan to close its A380 route out of New York-JFK.

In fact, a quick search on Singapore’s website found that for many dates, flying the A380 out of JFK to Singapore via Frankfurt is more expensive than flying on Singapore’s new nonstop flight out of Newark.

Photo: Singapore Airlines.

To help combat the all but certain jetlag passengers will face on such a lengthy flight, Singapore has partnered with Canyon Ranch to formulate passenger wellness features aboard the Airbus A350-900ULR.

The partnership focuses on three key components including wellness cuisines developed by Canyon Ranch chefs and nutritionists, rest and relaxation including sleep strategies designed to help customers in all classes improve duration and quality of rest and guided stretching exercises available via personal seatback entertainment systems.

In addition, passengers will take advantage of the A350s jetlag combating higher cabin humidity, lower cabin pressurization, and reduced noise.

Business Class on the Singapore A350
Premium Economy on the Singapore A350

While already one of the largest operators of the Airbus A350 with 21 standard A350-900s in its fleet, Singapore Airlines recently took delivery of their first two A350-900ULR aircraft.

The two planes, registered 9V-SGA and 9V-SGB, were delivered on September 22 and September 28, respectively.

Coincidently, these exact aircraft registrations once flew on the very Singapore A340-500s that used to operate the Singapore to Newark route.

These two planes will solely serve the Newark route until Singapore takes delivery of additional A350-900ULR aircraft at a later date.

In total, Singapore has five additional A350-900ULR aircraft on order. All five A350-900ULRs have completed, or are undergoing, final assembly at Airbus in Toulouse, France at this time.

Upon delivery, Singapore will use these A350-900ULR aircraft to operate nonstop flights from Singapore to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Both cities are currently served by Singapore Airlines but flights to LAX require a stop in Tokyo or Seoul.

In San Francisco, the three weekly A350-900ULR flights will be in addition to the already daily standard A350-900 flights and daily 777-300ER flights to Singapore via Hong Kong.

While only adding three additional frequencies, the addition of the A350-900ULR in its premium heavy configuration will increase Business Class seats on the route by 32%, and premium-economy seats by 77% according to Flightglobal.

The addition of these premium seats comes as United prepares to add a second daily flight between San Francisco and Singapore with the 787-9 Dreamliner on October 27th. 

In Los Angeles, the A350-900ULR will also be used to bolster Singapore’s premium seat numbers on the city pair.

With the addition of nonstop flights, Singapore will discontinue their Seoul to Los Angeles route.

By overflying Tokyo and Seoul, the A350-900ULR will save passengers at least two hours and 10 minutes flying from LAX to Singapore.

As the launch carrier for the A350-900ULR, Singapore is the first airline to take advantage of the 1,600 nautical mile range increase offered by the ULR over the standard A350-900.

In order to increase the range, Airbus redesigned its fuel system to accommodate 6,340 additional gallons of fuel. By redesigning the fuel system, Airbus was able to increase the fuel payload without adding additional fuel tanks. In total, the A350-900ULR can hold 43,590 gallons of fuel.

Photo Courtesy: @FrenchPainter

Even with the A350-900ULRs impressive range, Singapore expects some ULR routes to be payload restricted.

Speaking to Flightglobal, Singapore Chief Executive Goh Choon Phong stated, “There could be some payload concerns, but on the cargo side particularly.” Singapore expects the payload restrictions to be most prevalent during the northern winter when stronger headwinds are most common.

In addition, the A350-900ULR will have a deactivated 3,062 square foot front cargo hold.

“The A350-900ULR can be ‘reversed’ into a standard -900 if the airline decides. From an airframe perspective it is ‘paperwork’ and you need to re-activate the forward cargo hold…and install the cargo-loading system,” said Airbus A350 marketing director François Obé to FlightGlobal.

To help passengers overcome the excruciatingly long flight, Singapore has configured its A350-900ULR in a low-density configuration with only 161 seats across two classes.

By comparison, Singapore seats either 253 seats in its standard A350-900s.

Bonus: Onboard the Singapore Airlines A380 Inaugural Flight

The aircraft will feature 67 Business Class lie-flat seats and 94 Premium Economy seats. The aircraft will not feature any standard economy seats.

While 18 hours and 45 minutes may be past the breaking point for most travelers, ultra long-haul flights are becoming a new normal in the airline industry. Of the top 10 longest flights by duration, only one of the top 10 flights predates 2014.

As aircraft and engine manufacturers continue to improve efficiencies, more and more airlines are seeking to push the limits of aircraft in hopes of connecting cities far and wide.

Just last year, Qatar Airways launched its 17-hour and 40-minute nonstop route between Doha and Auckland with the 777-200LR.

Earlier this year, Qantas launched a 17 hour and 20 minute nonstop route between Perth and London with the 787-9 Dreamliner. While this 9,009 mile route is impressive, it is just the beginning for Australia’s flag carrier Qantas.

In June, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce publicly challenged Airbus and Boeing to design an airplane capable of flying nonstop from Sydney to London and New York.

The ambitious project, named ‘Project Sunrise’, would usher the airline industry into an era of 20+ hour flights. At present, Qantas is said to be mulling between the Airbus A350-900ULR and the Boeing 777-8X for ‘Project Sunrise’.

Note: Chris Sloan (@airchive) will be Live Blogging the entire flight at Connectivity is expected to be in place for entire flight except for a 2.5 hour blackout beginning 5.5 hours into the flight. Follow Airways Magazine on social media for continuing coverage of the inaugural A350-900ULR flight.”

Cover photo courtesy: @FrenchPainter