On Monday this week during a visit to Singapore, Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Mr Kazuyoshi Akaba announced that Singapore Airlines has been granted fifth freedom traffic rights between Tokyo and New York, a key international city pair currently only served by airlines registered in either Japan or the USA.
“We sincerely hope that this will be a new milestone, or a new step in possible cooperation opportunities for Singapore and All Nippon Airways in codesharing flights and other areas.” Kazuyoshi Akaba
It’s interesting that cooperation with ANA is specifically mentioned here. The fellow Star Alliance carrier already operates twice daily on the Tokyo – New York route (once from Haneda and once from Narita), with both flights now offering the airline’s latest First and Business Class cabin products.
Singapore Airlines already codeshares on ANA’s daily Haneda to New York flights, but not the Japanese carrier’s flights from Narita to JFK, which don’t time appropriately to connect with SIA services to or from Changi and currently operate under joint venture with SIA “frenemy” United Airlines.
What are fifth freedom rights?
Essentially, the right to carry revenue traffic between two cities in different countries, neither of which are the airline’s own country of registration, when operating a service which also connects to or from the airline’s home country.
Singapore Airlines already operates a number of such services, including Hong Kong to San Francisco (continuation of SIN-HKG) and Moscow to Stockholm (continuation of SIN-DME).
We have a full guide to SIA’s fifth freedom routes, which goes into more detail on the concept.
It’s a 12 hour 30 minute flight from Tokyo to New York, with an increased duration of 14 hours 15 minutes on the New York to Tokyo sector against prevailing winds in the winter season.
Nonetheless at approximately the same distance as Singapore to London, the route is comfortably within the range of four Singapore Airlines aircraft types:
- Airbus A350 (3-class)
- Airbus A350 ULR
- Airbus A380
- Boeing 777-300ER
Technically the Boeing 777-200ER is also perfectly capable of operating this route, though those aircraft have the older cabin products and are in the process of being completely phased out of the fleet.
We already know that Singapore Airlines is withdrawing the Airbus A380 from the Tokyo Narita route at the end of the summer 2020 season.
From 25th October 2020 SQ637/638 services, currently operated by A380 Version 3 aircraft with the new cabin products, revert to Boeing 777-300ER operation. That change occurs as the airline shifts the newer A380s onto the Auckland route from the same date.
With two Boeing 777-300ERs operating on the Singapore – Tokyo Narita route from late October 2020, our money is on the SQ637/638 service with that aircraft type continuing to New York (to/from either JFK or EWR, and probably renumbered SQ17/18 or similar).
Narita is likely to be used for these flights, due to slot constraints at Haneda.
One Mile at a Time mentioned that this fifth freedom request was initially made in July 2019, for a proposed March 2020 start date, however that would be a very quick launch at this stage with the approval only just coming through. It’s far more likely to tie in with the aircraft and schedule changes we’re already seeing for the upcoming winter season from late October 2020.
Singapore Airlines would be joining a busy market on the Tokyo – New York route, especially if fellow Star Alliance carrier ANA continues its twice-daily flights on the route (rather than say sacrificing one flight to SIA under a cooperation / codesharing arrangement).
They would be up against capacity offered by:
- ANA (424 seats/day)
- Japan Airlines (488 seats/day)
- United Airlines (350 seats/day)
What about Frankfurt – New York?
Singapore Airlines could discontinue its Singapore – Frankfurt – New York Airbus A380 flights, or at least terminate them in Frankfurt instead, and replace them with a Singapore – Tokyo – New York routing.
Equally they could downgrade the Frankfurt / JFK flight to the Boeing 777-300ER, as has been rumoured for some time, while supplementing it with this new service. That would sadly mean the removal of the airline’s Suites product from the US market.
The one-stop A380 service via Frankfurt may be becoming less popular with the advent of a daily non-stop A350 ULR option between Singapore and New York, and filling the seats on the standalone Frankfurt – New York segment is known to attract poor yields.
Return Business Class fares from Frankfurt to New York of S$2,400 are common throughout 2020 on SIA’s non-stop flight, as the airline has to price itself below better-known and well established competition on transatlantic routes.
There’s no such issue on the lucrative and expensive Tokyo – New York route, where average lowest non-stop return Business Class fares come in at S$7,200 with existing operators. In the other direction, if you’re starting and ending your journey in New York, a non-stop return Business Class fare to Tokyo is hard to come by for less than S$10,000.
Even with SIA, as a foreign carrier, likely to undercut incumbents on the route, these fares are a far cry from the revenue the airline is achieving on the Frankfurt – New York route.
What about Tokyo – Los Angeles?
Singapore Airlines already operates a daily Singapore – Tokyo Narita – Los Angeles flight using the Boeing 777-300ER, with fifth freedom traffic flights between Tokyo and Los Angeles.
Has the airline rescinded its traffic rights on this route in favour of flying to and from New York instead?
That doesn’t seem likely, with SIA already cutting weekly A350 ULR capacity to and from Los Angeles after 25th October 2020, and that aircraft type being the only one that can realistically link the city to and from Singapore non-stop.
We don’t think Singapore Airlines is going to remove First Class and Economy Class options from the Los Angeles route.
What about the ‘spare’ A350 ULRs?
In November last year we reported how Singapore Airlines had removed enough Airbus A350 ULR flights from the winter 2020/21 flight schedule to free up two of the seven aircraft for alternative deployment from 25th October 2020, while still retaining a backup aircraft to cover operational disruption.
There is still no news as to how these aircraft may be used next winter, with several options on the table, but a new route seems likely.
We don’t think the A350 ULR will be used for a Singapore – Tokyo – New York route. For one thing it is designed for ultra long-haul flights, with a capacity sacrifice to achieve this, while the Tokyo – New York sector is easily within range of SIA’s other long-haul aircraft types. Using the ULR would not be very efficient.
For another thing, two aircraft wouldn’t be able to service this routing on a daily basis, due to the extended ground time involved with a stop in Tokyo in both directions.
There should therefore still be a different plan for these ‘spare’ ULRs come October, and we still predict a new route will be announced.
If Singapore Airlines does start the Tokyo – New York route, and with the sort of fares it can probably command on this city pair it seems inevitable that it will, redemption costs using KrisFlyer miles are not really published at this stage.
While there is a Zone 7 (Japan) to Zone 13 (US East Coast) pricing on the KrisFlyer award chart, it is largely theoretical as it’s based on transiting in Singapore. It is also not bookable due to the ‘no backtracking’ rule.
Those rates are therefore likely to be ‘re-priced’ for a non-stop service, the same way the Tokyo to Los Angeles service has its own pricing applicable only to SIA’s non-stop services (SQ11/12) on that route.
For reference, these are the one-way saver award rates charged on the Tokyo – Los Angeles route. We would expect a non-stop Tokyo – New York route to be priced slightly above these rates.
- Economy: 35,000 miles
- Premium: 66,000 miles
- Business: 92,000 miles
- First / Suites: 107,000 miles
Fifth freedom rights between Japan and the USA are hard to come by and can be lost if not exercised. Given that Singapore Airlines has specifically sought these traffic rights over the last six months, we’d therefore be surprised if it now does not use them.
There already looks to be a shake-up in store for US services from the winter 2020/21 season, with the news that two Airbus A350 ULR aircraft are at a loose end from late October this year.
We would therefore expect this route announcement to tie in with those changes, rather than optimistically launch less than three months from now at the start of the summer 2020 season, under the original intention.
It’s looking increasingly likely that a good proportion of SIA’s A350 deliveries in 2020 will be the 3-class long-haul variant, potentially freeing up more Boeing 777-300ERs for a route like this.
Clearly there are lots of options available to the airline on how this one is operated, including possible changes to other routes. As soon as it becomes clear and services are announced, we’ll be sure to update you on the plans.
What changes do you predict for SIA’s services to and from the USA this year in light of this news? Let us know in the comments section below.
(Cover Photo: Jonathan Riley)