Singapore Airlines to Close Los Angeles and Newark Routes

Asian carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) has confirmed it will return its Airbus A340-500 fleet to the European manufacturer as part of a new $7.5 billion deal to acquire five more A380s and 20 additional A350s.  The airline agreed a similar buyback agreement for its older A340-300 variants as part of a previous new aircraft order with rival manufacturer Boeing.

SIA confirms the withdrawal of the A340-500s during the fourth quarter of 2013 will result in the closure of its non-stop services between Singapore and the US cities of Los Angeles and New York, the latter flown via Newark Liberty International Airport.  This is because the airline will no longer have an aircraft with the range to fly these ultra long-haul routes.

SIA was one of only a few customers for the A340-500, which has proved to be a real niche aircraft to the world’s airlines.  Its deal with Airbus will ease pressure on the carrier disposing of these aircraft itself as there is only a very limited used marketplace for the type. 

When the A340-500 entered service in 2003 it presented new opportunities for the world’s long-haul carriers thanks to its long-range.  At the time it offered the longest flight envelope of any widebodied commercial airliner and its four engines meant it was exempt from restrictive ETOPS legislation.  This meant that new non-stop city pairs that previously could not be flown were now possible thanks to the enormous range of the new airliner.

For SIA this granted a not to be missed opportunity to make moves into new markets.  However, many airlines were concerned over performance issues with the aircraft and three years later the arrival of the more-efficient and longer-range Boeing 777-200LR, effectively killed-off the A340-500 as a commercial airline programme.

SIA helped bring a raft of publicity for the A340-500 when it inaugurated operations with the type in early 2004.  The carrier specially branded its aircraft the ‘A345 Leadership’ and used them to introduce the world’s two longest non-stop flights from Singapore to Los Angeles in March 2004 and then from Singapore to Newark Liberty International in June 2004. 

The airline continues to use its five A340-500s on these two routes.  However in 2008 it reconfigured the aircraft in an all-Business Class cabin with 100 of its award-winning premium seats in a 1-2-1 forward facing layout.  The Singapore – New York flight at 8,285 nautical miles (15,344 km) remains the world’s longest commercial airline service, an 18 hour 30 minute sector.

In the table below we show the estimated O&D demand between Singapore and the US cities of Los Angeles and New York (highlighting both New York JFK and Newark Liberty International, the two main gateways for international traffic into the city).  It is clear that the numbers of passengers using the non-stop A340-500s is falling with the Los Angeles flight seeing its market share slip from above 60 per cent in 2007 to just 40 per cent last year. For New York it is a similar story with the non-stop Newark link accounting for just 30 per cent of the total passengers in 2011, down from 64 per cent in 2007. 

In a statement, SIA said the retirement of the A340-500 fleet is "in line with the Airline’s policy to maintain a young fleet," although the data below would also suggest it could be failing to meet expectations on its A340-500 services. 

“Although disappointing that we will be halting these services, we remain very committed to the US market," said Goh Choon Phong, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Airlines.  "Over the past two years we have increased capacity to both Los Angeles and New York by deploying A380 superjumbos on flights via Tokyo and Frankfurt. We will also continue to explore additional options to enhance our US services.”

ESTIMATED O&D DEMAND ON SINGAPORE AIRLINES’ ULTRA LONGHAUL ROUTES (annual bi-directional O&D traffic)

Year

Singapore (SIN) – Los Angeles (LAX)

Singapore (SIN) – New York (EWR & JFK)

SIA Direct O&D Demand

Total O&D Demand

% Demand

SIA Direct O&D Demand

Total O&D Demand

% Demand

2007

53,317

85,132

62.6 %

77,646

120,848

64.3 %

2008

58,297

96,913

60.2 %

78,231

132,424

59.1 %

2009

40,824

73,240

55.7 %

59,362

131,471

45.2 %

2010

41,192

80,881

50.9 %

85,381

172,410

49.5 %

2011

32,580

80,677

40.4 %

46,451

154,509

30.1 %

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