Gulf carriers vie for world’s longest commercial passenger flight title

The current longest route in the world is the Qantas operation between Sydney and Dallas Fort Worth. For a long time, Singapore Airlines had held the position of operating the world's longest scheduled flight, however, the closure of its non-stop links from Singapore to Los Angeles and New York after its retirement of its Airbus A340-500 fleet earlier this decade, has meant the Pacific connection of Qantas Airways between Sydney and Dallas, a 16 hour 55 minute, 8,500+ mile journey, took over as the longest commercial passenger route.

The rivalry between the major Gulf hub carriers continues as it emerges that both Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways are vying to operate the world’s longest scheduled commercial passenger flights as they expand and develop their operations to the furthest points across the globe.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) carrier, Emirates Airline is already lined up to take this position when it launches its delayed Dubai – Panama City route at the end of March 2016 – this was due to commence next week from February 1, 2016, but a delay formalising a marketing agreement has slipped the launch by around eight weeks. However, its own realignment of its flights to Auckland, and Qatar Airways own plans for the New Zealand market could see some changes in the ultra-long-haul market.

The current longest route in the world is the Qantas operation between Sydney and Dallas Fort Worth. For a long time, Singapore Airlines had held the position of operating the world's longest scheduled flight, however, the closure of its non-stop links from Singapore to Los Angeles and New York after its retirement of its Airbus A340-500 fleet earlier this decade, has meant the Pacific connection of Qantas Airways between Sydney and Dallas, a 16 hour 55 minute, 8,500+ mile journey, took over as the longest commercial passenger route.

At 8,580 miles, the new Dubai - Panama City route is almost exactly the same distance as Qantas' existing Sydney – Dallas route, but will have a longer flight time. This will be 17hrs 35mins for EK251 to Central America and 15hrs 45mins for EK251 back to Dubai.   This will be around 40 minutes longer than the Qantas flight and also the block times currently scheduled for Delta’s current Dubai – Atlanta and Air India’s new San Francisco – Delhi route.

Emirates has this week confirmed it will launch another long-range flight with the introduction of non-stop services between Dubai and Auckland, New Zealand from March 1, 2016. This route will complement its existing three daily Airbus A380 flights to Auckland via Australia (Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney) and daily 777-300ER link to Christchurch, and will be operated using a 266-seat 777-200LR. The direct flight will reduce journey times between Dubai and New Zealand by approximately three hours with an estimated flight time of just under 16 hours from Dubai to New Zealand and 17 hours, 15 minutes in the other direction.

“Having just one stop on the long haul to New Zealand will make the journey quicker and more comfortable. This will be a boon to many business people, tourists, expatriate New Zealanders and other travellers in Europe, parts of Africa and the Middle East,” said His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airline and Group.

Operating a non-stop service between Dubai and Auckland has been in Emirates’ sights for some time, but its launch has remained dependent on availability of suitable aircraft as it continues to rapidly expand its global network of destinations, and frequency of flights and capacity on existing routes.

“We are particularly delighted that we can now bring this exciting plan to fruition. New Zealand currently hosts about three million tourists a year and we want to do our part to cater for that flow and grow that figure above current expectations,” added His Highness Sheikh Al Maktoum.

Emirates started operating in New Zealand with a double-daily Auckland service in August 2003, adding a third daily Auckland service a few months later, and then providing a daily Christchurch service in 2004. Progressively from 2009 onwards, it has upgauged the Auckland services to the larger A380. With the introduction of the non-stop service, Emirates will be flying more than 2,000 seats a day in each direction on New Zealand services and the appeal of this market to a hub operator with many onward flows via the Middle East is clear to see.

This has also alerted the attention of Qatar Airways which has its own ambitions to launch more ultra-long-haul routes, according to its Group Chief Executive Officer, His Excellency Akbar Al Baker. He revealed at the recent Bahrain International Airshow that the carrier is looking closely at introducing its own non-stop flights to Auckland as part of extension plans which also includes possible expansion to Santiago Chile, routes to the Australian cities of Sydney and Adelaide, and new services to Boston and Atlanta in the United States. This will be facilitated by a fleet renewal that will see the arrival of one new aircraft on average every ten days through 2016.

With Qatar Airways’ Hamad International Airport hub in Doha located around 235 miles to the west of Dubai, it would become the longest route in the world with a flight time of an incredible 18 hours 34 minutes and an overall distance of just over 9,000 miles. Although no confirmed launch or operational details on this route have yet been published, it would be close to the non-payload restricted flight-range envelope of the 777-200LR.

If Qatar Airways does launch Doha - Auckland non-stop, it may only hold the world's longest flight title for a short period of time as Singapore Airlines has already announced its intent to relaunch premium non-stop flights between Singapore and the United States using its new A350-900ULRs. Optimised for non-stop flights to the US, the ultra-long range will ‎include a modified fuel system to increase the fuel carrying capacity, an increase in Maximum Take-Off Weight, plus aerodynamic improvements, enabling non-stop service to the US East and West Coasts, a journey time of up to 19 hours.

Schedule data from OAG shos that fine margins separate the top twenty list of longest scheduled passenger flights in the world in tems of block times. Unsurprisingly, services from the Middle East to North America and between North America and Asia currently make up the majority of this list. These include services offered by Air Canada, Air India, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, China Airlines, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, EVA Air, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Saudia, and United Airlines.