The second Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 to undergo a cabin refit programme with the new 2017 on-board products, 9V-SKT, has finally re-entered service. After an inexplicable 11 months on the ground, the aircraft departed in the early hours of this morning as SQ638 to Tokyo Narita.
At the time of writing the aircraft has departed Tokyo for its flight back to Singapore, and later tonight it is bound for London Heathrow as SQ322, cementing its full return to service.
For a short time in the early hours of this morning, all seven new and refitted A380 Version 3 aircraft (9V-SKS to -SKZ) were airborne simultaneously.
That means 37% of the Singapore Airlines A380 fleet (7 of 19) now sport the Version 3 configuration, the one most of our readers want to see with the latest Suites and Business Class.
Why so long?
It’s sure been a long wait for this second refit. 9V-SKT returned from its final passenger service in the old Version 2 configuration on 29th January 2019, landing from Sydney at 9pm that evening.
It didn’t take to the skies again until a short test flight last week, on 26th December 2019, and finally lifted off for Tokyo on its first passenger flight in Version 3 configuration at 12.33am this morning.
We’ll probably never know what caused the 11-month ground time for this aircraft, an extremely long period equivalent to 12% of its life (-SKT is only 95 months old). The timescale doesn’t bode too well for the pace of SIA’s A380 aircraft refits, with lead times of eight months and 11 months respectively for the first two completions.
In contrast, Qantas completed its latest (admittedly less complicated) A380 cabin refit in just 28 days.
One possibility is a maintenance issue, for example the A380 has been suffering from wing cracks requiring repair and replacement on some aircraft. This may have affected -SKT, leading to the extended ground time.
The Tokyo promise was kept
This seventh A380 Version 3 aircraft was needed to allow the daily Tokyo SQ638/637 flights to start offering the new cabin products from 1st January 2020.
Despite the late introduction, Singapore Airlines did manage to keep its promise to passengers on this route by operating a newly fitted aircraft from that date.
This was achieved by temporarily downgrading the Mumbai flight SQ424/423 to older A380 variants for the first three days of the year.
Where are the A380 Version 3 aircraft flying?
Between now and July 2020, these seven aircraft will operate the following Singapore Airlines services on a daily basis:
- Hong Kong (SQ856/861)*
- London (SQ322/317)
- Mumbai (SQ424/423)
- Shanghai (SQ830/833)
- Sydney (SQ221/232)
- Tokyo (SQ638/637)
- Zurich (SQ346/345)
* Hong Kong SQ856/861 is replaced with Boeing 777-300ER and older A380 versions on many dates at short notice due to low demand on this route. These flights are subject to short-notice change and should not be relied upon as guarantees to experience the new cabin products at the moment.
In July 2020 Paris is added to the A380 Version 3 schedules (replacing Mumbai), while for July and August 2020 an extra London flight sees the new products too as part of a seasonal boost, though the latter unfortunately involves ‘borrowing’ the aircraft from the Zurich route for those two months.
Finally from 25th October 2020, the Tokyo route will lose the new products (and the A380 altogether), as Auckland picks up the new seats on a daily basis.
Some of these new routes have even included saver award availability in the new Suites cabin, a rare find on the long-haul flights.
Is it any different?
The refitted Airbus A380s in the SIA fleet (-SKS and -SKT) match the same cabin configuration as those newly delivered from Airbus in 2017 and 2018 (-SKU to -SKZ).
- 6 Suites Class
- 78 Business Class
- 44 Premium Economy Class
- 343 Economy Class
- 471 Total
It’s the densest configuration Singapore Airlines has installed on the A380, with 30 more seats in total than the Version 1 examples and 92 more seats than found on the Version 2 jets.
The common configuration by cabin class on all Version 3 A380s, whether delivered new or refitted, means Singapore Airlines can deploy these seven aircraft on any A380 Version 3 route without worrying about potential overbooking issues.
While the Suites, Business and Premium Economy Cabins have an identical seating layout and the same seat numbering as the other Version 3 aircraft, there are some small differences in the Economy Class cabin on the two refitted aircraft (9V-SKS and -SKT), despite the identical total seat count of 343.
Here are the two Economy Class seat maps side by side (9V-SKU to -SKZ on the left, and the refitted aircraft 9V-SKS and -SKT on the right).
As you can see the refitted aircraft has retained some of its original galley and toilet layout, but the same seat total has been achieved with:
- 8 more seats in the forward middle section, but 3 less seats at the window side (row 58 does not exist on 9V-SKS/SKT)
- 1 less seat in the second section (62D)
- 4 less seats in the middle section at the very back (row 79 does not exist on 9V-SKS/SKT)
Nothing too significant there, the major news being the missing seat 62D, which gives the lucky passenger in 63D lots of legroom.
It is sold as an extra legroom seat on the A380 Version 1 and 2 aircraft (as seat 51D in those cases), but not on the Version 3 aircraft as the airline cannot determine in advance whether a refitted model will be used on a specific flight more than a few days before.
63D is therefore your go-to seat choice in Economy on the A380 Version 3, with no additional charges. You then have to cross your fingers that your flight will be operated by a refitted aircraft!
Though that’s unlikely at the moment, eventually if all the refits are completed there will be a 74% chance of success using this strategy (14/19).
The reason seat 62D is missing is due to the location of the crew rest compartment (CRC) emergency escape hatch. The CRC is directly below these seats in the cargo hold on the older A380s, but is in a different location on 9V-SKU to -SKZ.
Another benefit of the A380 aircraft refits is the Wi-Fi system, which is brought right up to date with the latest Inmarsat GX Aviation technology.
Singapore Airlines was the first airline in the world to install the GX Aviation Wi-Fi system on a passenger aircraft with the initial A380 Version 3 delivery, and on 17th December 2017 passengers on 9V-SKU’s inaugural flight to Sydney were treated to an unlimited connection to try it out.
Even with close to 100% of passengers using the system concurrently, fast speeds were reported.
A couple of weeks later we jumped on board the same aircraft on the same Singapore – Sydney flight to review the new Business Class product and picked up a great connection speed, with 8.6 Mbps download and 2.3 Mbps upload rates.
Later that year in July we took the new Suites to Hong Kong and recorded 6.7 Mbps download with 2 Mbps upload speeds.
Not only does that mean a fast connection speed, it also means Suites passengers will receive an unlimited data connection for their entire flight, rather than the 100MB cap that still applies on older A380 aircraft.
In Business Class the data limit is upped from 30MB on the older aircraft to 100MB on these newer models, with that higher upper limit also provided to PPS Club members travelling in Economy Class and Premium Economy.
Check out our full guide to the Wi-Fi systems installed and applicable access charges across the Singapore Airlines fleet here.
The new and refitted A380s also boast the latest in flight entertainment systems, including the personalised myKrisWorld feature allowing you to bookmark and resume your viewing on different flights, and to customise and save personal preferences.
Which aircraft is next?
9V-SKN looks to have entered the refit process in mid-October 2019, and will be needed to support A380 Version 3 operation on the daily Paris route from 1st July 2020.
If it manages to emerge in late June 2020 to achieve that, it will reflect a similar refit timing as 9V-SKS at eight months. Let’s hope for no unexpected delays.
Will all the A380s be refitted?
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the answer to this question is probably no.
All 14 of SIA’s older A380s were supposed to have been refitted by the end of 2020. As of now – just two are finished. There should be two and possibly three more completed by the end of this year.
That still leaves the airline embarrassingly short of their previously announced target.
It’s also worth noting that only A380 Version 2 aircraft seem to be undergoing the refit work so far. The six Version 1 jets are currently neglected in the process, perhaps suggesting they will never actually be refitted.
Indeed if three more Version 2 aircraft are refitted this year, and the same number in 2021, the remaining Version 1 aircraft will then be 12 to 14 years old – before refits have even started. It seems totally unfeasible to go to the expense of bothering to refit these older jets at that stage, since SIA doesn’t tend to hold on to aircraft beyond 15 years old.
Can you tell you’ll be flying on a refitted aircraft?
The only way to identify the refitted A380 from the five newly delivered with the 2017 cabin products installed in advance is the Economy Class seat map.
The problem there is that Singapore Airlines loads the usual Economy seat map (as fitted to 9V-SKU to -SKZ) on all A380 Version 3 flights, only updating it once online check-in opens 48 hours prior to departure, once they can then be more certain of the aircraft allocation (even then, it can still change prior to departure).
In other words, you will not even see the refitted Economy seat map more than two days in advance, even using tools like ExpertFlyer and KVS.
These overviews should help you learn what to expect from the airline’s latest A380 products if you haven’t flown them before. There are a few drawbacks, but for the most part – you’re in for a treat!
Eight months and 11 months respectively for the first two Singapore Airlines A380 aircraft refits isn’t a shining endorsement of the process, and unless it improves dramatically that gives us strong reason to believe the airline will never actually complete the work to all 14 of the older models.
The original intention to have them all finished by the end of 2020 is clearly now totally out of the question.
Nonetheless we expect 9V-SKN to join the Version 3 fold in mid-2020 for the Paris route, and there should hopefully be at least one more refit coming online later in the year.
Patience is a virtue if you’re still waiting for your chance to try the new 2017 cabin products, but the good news is more and more opportunities are presenting themselves despite the slow rollout.
Once we have details of which routes and flights any subsequent refitted A380s will unlock, we’ll let you know.
Remember you can always see where these new cabins are flying now, and in the near future, on our continually updated 2017 Suites and Business Class tracker page.
(Cover Image: Singapore Airlines)