October 13th, 2020 will mark five years since Airbus and Singapore Airlines launched the ULR (Ultra-Long Range) variant of the Airbus A350-900. The airline operates all seven of the type. Various aspects of the aircraft are specifically designed to increase its operational range and fuel efficiency. This has helped Singapore Airlines to take the crown of the world’s longest scheduled airline route.
Airbus only produced seven A350-900ULR aircraft. All of these are operated by Singapore Airlines. Photo: Getty Images
Multiple fuel-saving innovations
Five years ago, Singapore Airlines became the launch (and ultimately only) customer of the ULR variant of the Airbus A350-900. This variant boasts several features that ultimately contribute to its most impressive aspect, its eponymous ultra-long range. In the initial Airbus press release, the manufacturer was keen to point out the new aircraft’s numerous selling points, which include:
“[A] modified fuel system, increased maximum takeoff weight and aerodynamic improvements that will allow the jetliner to fly routes of up to 19 hours.”
Singapore was already an operator of the standard Airbus A350-900, of which it presently operates 41. The airline first took delivery of this type in March 2016.
With 41 standard and 7 ULR Airbus A350 aircraft, Singapore Airlines is the world’s second-largest operator of the type behind Qatar Airways. Photo: Getty Images
Another element of the A350-900ULR’s design that helps to facilitate a greater range is its low-density configuration. Singapore Airlines’ standard Airbus A350-900 aircraft seat either 253 (three classes) or 303 passengers (two classes). However, according to SeatGuru, the ULR variant plays host to a maximum of just 161 passengers.
These are laid out in a low-density configuration that looks to maximize passenger comfort. The aircraft’s front and middle cabins consist of 67 flatbed seats in business class. These measure 78 inches long when flat. The rear cabin consists of 94 recliner seats in premium economy, which are 19.5 inches wide and offer a generous pitch of 38 inches.
Use on the world’s longest scheduled flight
Singapore Airlines received its first Airbus A350-900ULR aircraft in September 2018, launching the type commercially a month later. The aircraft has proved to be a huge PR boost for the airline, as its extended range allowed Singapore Airlines to take the crown of being the operator of the world’s longest scheduled flight.
This service saw flights SQ21 and SQ22 operate between Singapore Changi (SIN) and New York’s Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey. It was scheduled to take 18 hours and 45 minutes, covering a distance of 8,277 nautical miles. As verified by travel data provider OAG’s ‘Busiest Routes 2020’ report, this is over 400 miles longer than its nearest competitor. This is the route between Auckland, New Zealand and Doha, Qatar, operated by Qatar Airways.
Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A350-900ULR aircraft ply the world’s longest scheduled airline route between Newark and Singapore. Photo: Getty Images
Unfortunately, these flights do not appear to be operating at the moment. This is surely a consequence of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has seen passenger numbers fall sharply worldwide. This has hit the airline hard, and it announced in September that it would be cutting over 4,000 jobs.
However, there is some promise regarding the future of Singapore Airlines. In July, it raised over $540 million by securing some of its Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 aircraft. This helped improve the airline’s financial situation, with Simple Flying reporting that the move “strengthens its position to weather the current crisis.” Here’s to hoping that this means we will be able to see the world’s longest flights in the air again in the not-too-distant future.
What are your thoughts about the A350-900ULR? Let us know what you think in the comment section.