Following an eight-month refit, 9V-SKN is finally flying again with the new 2017 cabin products on board, bringing the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 ‘Version 3’ fleet to eight aircraft in total.
While in the current climate this doesn’t mean any ‘new routes with new Suites’ to get excited about (there are currently no routes with any Suites), it should bode well for securing the latest seats once SIA’s A380s finally return to the skies, with 42% of the carrier’s superjumbo fleet now boasting the latest fit.
How do we know?
Yesterday afternoon 9V-SKN operated a 2-hour 15-minute test flight from Changi, a requirement after this length of time on the ground given the heavy maintenance work typically performed alongside the refit itself.
We were lucky that BK Tan was at Changi and able to report to us that he had eyeballed the aircraft, confirming it indeed now has the new forward upper deck and main deck window arrangement confirming its refit as a Version 3 A380.
That’s because the full complement of windows is installed at the forward main deck section, previously housing First Class Suites but now set aside for Premium Economy Class, and there are additional blanked out windows upstairs for the latest Suites.
The new and much bigger satellite receiver on the roof is also a giveaway, near the back of the fuselage, unique to the Version 3 aircraft to support the GX Aviation Wi-Fi system. There are also four windows instead of two behind the last upper deck door.
It was certainly a quicker turnaround than for 9V-SKT, which spent 11 months on the ground during its refit, with -SKN instead matching the eight-month downtime of -SKS (the first A380 refit).
The SIA A380 Fleet
Here’s how the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 fleet distribution now looks following this third aircraft refit.
|Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Fleet|
ASP – Alice Springs Airport
SIN – Singapore Changi Airport
9V-SKN is the oldest of the airline’s A380s to receive the retrofit. It also leaves just five aircraft in the lowest density (but highest Business Class) ‘Version 2’ configuration.
42% of the Singapore Airlines A380 fleet (8 of 19) now sport the Version 3 configuration, with the latest Suites and Business Class.
This eighth refitted A380 was initially required to add daily service to Paris with the new cabin products from today (1st July 2020), however none of the A380s are currently in passenger service, with six now stored at a long-term facility in Alice Springs, Australia. The latest pair, 9V-SKP and -SKQ, were flown there at the weekend.
We expect that a few more A380s, SKN potentially included, will also be placed in storage this month, with the airline potentially aiming to preserve all its Version 2 and Version 3 aircraft. These are their newest models, ranging from 2 to 10 years old.
As the highest passenger capacity aircraft in the fleet, the A380s will logically be rejoining the airline towards the end of the COVID-19 recovery phase. Currently Singapore Airlines is only flying two aircraft types on passenger services, the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.
That means not just the temporary withdrawal of the Suites cabins, but also the 2013 First Class product on the Boeing 777-300ER.
This will last until at least the end of July 2020, however realistically we expect the airline to stick to this policy of flying only two aircraft types on passenger services for the foreseeable future.
Are the refitted aircraft any different?
The refitted Airbus A380s in the SIA fleet (-SKN, -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 eight 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 three refitted aircraft (9V-SKN, -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-SKN, -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-SKN/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-SKN/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).
Fun fact: 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.
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.
This system is also available on the Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s currently operating the airline’s skeleton passenger schedule.
Will all the airline’s A380s be refitted?
Six months ago when 9V-SKT became the second A380 to receive the cabin refit we said “probably no”.
Now the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the aviation industry for at least the next couple of years “definitely not” is the easiest conclusion to reach.
Singapore Airlines originally planned to refit all 14 of its older Airbus A380s by the end of this year. Only three such refits have been achieved.
As recently as last week a Singapore Airlines spokesperson told an aviation journalist that all 19 of its A380s are due to return to service.
That is cloud cuckoo land.
We don’t think a realistic return to service for this fleet is much larger than 8 to 12 aircraft, given the estimated time for demand to return post-COVID.
Four of the airline’s remaining Airbus A380s are on operating leases and will almost certainly be returned to their owners as those agreements expire, shrinking the fleet to 15 by default. There is no way the fleet can return to 19 operational aircraft before the first leased aircraft is due to be returned – meaning the prospect of ever operating 19 again is ‘pie in the sky’.
More uncertainty was cast over the refit plans themselves at the latest SIA Group analyst briefing, with the Singapore Airlines CEO making the following statement when asked whether the programmes on the A380s and Boeing 737-800s would be accelerated or delayed:
“The various retrofit programmes… are actually under intense review by us… this also involves discussions with the various suppliers… until there is something concrete we can announce, we will not be talking about it in public.”
Goh Choon Phong, CEO Singapore Airlines
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, already at least a decade old, are currently neglected in the process. This suggests they will never actually be refitted.
These overviews should help you learn what to expect from the airline’s latest A380 products if you haven’t flown them before, in anticipation of these aircraft returning to service at some stage in the future when travel rebounds.
There are a few drawbacks in each cabin, but for the most part – you’re in for a treat!
It’s nice to see another Singapore Airlines A380 refit has been completed, as expected towards the end of June this year.
The work on SKN’s cabin was likely far too advanced to be halted once the COVID-19 outbreak started, even when Singapore Airlines realised that the A380s wouldn’t be needed for a while.
The airline could take this opportunity of downtime for the remainder of the superjumbo fleet to progress further with the refits, though that now seems unlikely due to the costs involved and with almost no prospect that 19 A380 aircraft can ever realistically rejoin the fleet.
On the positive side, newer aircraft like this one are being prioritised for desert storage. That suggests the airline is prioritising them; keen to keep them well preserved for a future reintroduction. Perhaps one day, there will only be ‘Version 3’ A380s operating in the Singapore Airlines fleet.
(Cover Photo: Agent Wolf / Shutterstock)