News Singapore Airlines

The Singapore Airlines A350ULR is back

The Singapore Airlines Airbus A350ULR is back in service, with the type's first flight in over eight months now winging its way to San Francisco.

Around 10 minutes ago SQ34 departed non-stop from Singapore to San Francisco, the first time SIA has served the Californian city since March 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak led to an almost complete withdrawal by the carrier from US routes.

Indeed only Los Angeles has been consistently served by Singapore Airlines throughout the pandemic, with three times weekly 3-class Airbus A350 operation.

That route has recently been hiked to five times weekly and also supplemented by a new three times weekly non-stop service to and from New York JFK, using the 3-class A350 for superior cargo capacity, while passenger loads remain low.

The A350ULR is back

The interesting thing about this route reinstatement is that it also represents the return of SIA’s Airbus A350ULR variant back into commercial service.

9V-SGF was used to fly the first Airbus A350ULR passenger service in over eight months. (Photo: James Rowson)

These seven aircraft have been stored in Singapore since late March 2020 and have only been flying occasional empty test flights since then.

(Source: FlightRadar24)

Airbus A350ULR 9V-SGF, operating today’s flight, last flew passengers on 24th March 2020 from Newark to Singapore, some 266 days ago.

The schedule

Singapore Airlines is restarting non-stop San Francisco flights three times per week from today until early February 2021.

15th Dec 2020 to 2nd Feb 2021

  Days
M T W T F S S
SQ34
A359 ULR
 
SIN
18:40
SFO
17:20
SQ33
A359 ULR
       
SFO
20:50
SIN
06:25(+2)

As with the airline’s other long-haul services, the aircraft and crew will rest together in San Francisco for around 51 hours before returning to Singapore, meaning at least two A350ULRs will need to be activated from storage.

That’s because each time an aircraft departs on this route, it doesn’t land back until nearly 84 hours later. For example, we won’t see 9V-SGF which is currently flying the first SIN-SFO service back at Changi until Saturday morning, over three days after it left.

From February 2021 the service picks up to six days per week, double the initial schedule, with Monday being the only day each week there is no flight from Singapore and Tuesday marked as the ‘missing service’ day from San Francisco.

From 3rd Feb 2021

  Days
M T W T F S S
SQ34
A359 ULR
 
SIN
18:40
SFO
17:20
SQ33
A359 ULR
 
SFO
20:50
SIN
06:25(+2)

San Francisco will be SIA’s most frequently served US city once this increased schedule comes into effect.

Once the six times weekly schedule begins from February 2021, things start to get more efficient from a fleet utilisation perspective. Even though each aircraft will still wait in San Francisco for the crew to rest, this time will be cut to just over a day.

A minimum of three aircraft will then be required to service the route, with each spending 27 hours on the ground in San Francisco and around 12 hours on the ground in Singapore before starting the trip again.

Which aircraft will be used?

Aside from 9V-SGF, it will be interesting to see which other aircraft (or pair of aircraft) are brought back into service, or whether more than two (perhaps even all seven) will be used on sequential rotation as a form of ‘active storage’ for this fleet, which can be cheaper than keeping the aircraft in long-term storage.

At least two of SIA’s seven Airbus A350ULR aircraft will be needed for the initial San Francisco schedule to be possible. (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

Here’s a look at the most recent test flights for the Singapore Airlines A350ULR fleet.

Aircraft Most recent
test flight
Days Ago
9V-SGA 18 Sep 2020 88
9V-SGB 27 Nov 2020 18
9V-SGC 26 Sep 2020 80
9V-SGD 8 Oct 2020 68
9V-SGE 8 Dec 2020 7
9V-SGF 10 Dec 2020 5
9V-SGG 10 Dec 2020 4

As you can see 9V-SGE, -SGF and -SGG have been the most recently active, all performing test flights in the last week, so it looks as though SIA will probably rotate this trio on the San Francisco run during the initial schedule, giving them one more aircraft than they technically need, probably to cover any unforeseen issues.

Once the schedule rises to six times weekly next year, we think SIA will potentially activate all seven of its Airbus A350ULRs and use them on rotation, to save on storage costs and also allow a quick ramp-up to daily service or to other cities if necessary.

Update: 9V-SGA is scheduled for an air test on 17th December and 9V-SGC will follow on 18th December, so it does look like SIA is probably readying the whole A350ULR fleet for a return to service.

The A350ULR in numbers

Singapore Airlines is the world’s only Airbus A350ULR operator, so what’s different about it? Here’s how the variant stacks up against the carrier’s other A350s.

  A350-900 A350-900
Regional
A350-900
ULR
Service Entry 9 Mar ’16
(SIN-KUL)
17 Dec ’18
(SIN-ADL)
11 Oct ’18
(SIN-EWR)
Seats
Business 42
(2013 J)
40
(2018 RJ)
67
(2013 J)
Premium 24
(2015 W)
94
(2018 W)
Economy 187
(2013 Y)
263
(2017 Y)
Total 253 303 161
Technical Specs.
Max Weight 280t 250t 285t
Cargo Capacity 172.4m3 172.4m3 85.7m3
Thrust (x2) 84,200lb 75,000lb 84,200lb

As you can see the major difference between the Airbus A350ULR and other variants in the fleet is that it has no Economy Class cabin. Instead it’s fitted out in a low density 2-class configuration with 67 Business Class and 94 Premium Economy Class seats.

That means if you’re looking to travel on SIA in Economy Class to or from the US in the coming months, you’ll continue to be restricted to Los Angeles or New York flights.

While the ULR has a deactivated forward cargo hold, limiting its cargo capacity to less than half that of the regular variants, that doesn’t mean it can’t carry any cargo. On these San Francisco flights, with inevitable low passenger (and therefore baggage) loads, we imagine SIA will still be able to benefit from good cargo shipments.

Here are some other facts about the ULR:

  • Its range is up to 9,700 nautical miles (nm), or over 20 hours non-stop.
  • Its longest flight to and from Newark covered a distance of approximately 9,000nm (16,700km), and lasted up to 18 hours 45 minutes.
  • The maximum takeoff weight is 280 tonnes, 5 tonnes more than the A350-900.
  • 110 tonnes of the aircraft weight is fuel with the tanks fully loaded (at least 40%), but less than 10 tonnes of fuel typically remains at the end of a flight.
Not your usual Business Class view – on the A350ULR the cabin stretches right to the back of the wing. (Photo: Alan Wilson)

Seat 10A is available

A unique seat number in the Singapore Airlines fleet is 10A, which only exists on the carrier’s Airbus A350ULR aircraft.

Seat 10A on the Airbus A350-900 ULR

This one is tucked away on its own at the very front of the cabin, in a row to itself shielded by the galley wall at the aisle side.

Seat 10A on the Airbus A350-900ULR. (Photo: The Points Guy)

That not only makes it very private but it benefits from the additional legroom afforded by the full-width bench, which also makes the bed bigger once the seat is converted.

Like seats 11 D/F/K and all of row 19, there is no need to extend your legs at an angle while sleeping.

Privacy in seat 10A. (Photo: That Time Of The Year)

The problem on the A350ULR has always been that this seat was reserved as a crew rest position, making it impossible for a Business Class passenger to select it.

Seat 10A. (Photo: That Time Of The Year)

We noticed that’s no longer the case on these reinstated San Francisco flights, with anyone able to choose 10A at the booking stage.

Despite the 10A’s proximity to the galley, potentially meaning increased noise and disturbance, we’d still recommend it for the privacy and exclusivity, so if you are heading to or from San Francisco in Business Class on one of these flights in the coming months – aim for this one!

Solo seats in Premium Economy will cost you more

In case you missed the news earlier this year, it’s not the same story in the Premium Economy cabin where you’ll find the six popular ‘Solo’ seats at the very back of the cabin unavailable for selection, unless you get your wallet out!

Premium Economy ‘Solo’ seats on the Airbus A350ULR. (Photo: One Mile at a Time)

Since March 2020 Singapore Airlines started charging extra for these seats on A350ULR flights, in accordance with the following per-sector pricing schedule.

Frequent Flyer Status Cost
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is PPS-Both-Cards.jpg
PPS Club
Free
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is KF-Gold-Card-2.png
KF Elite Gold
US$119
(15% discount)
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is KF-Silver-Card.png
KF Elite Silver
US$126
(10% discount)
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is KF-Blue-Card.png
KF Member
US$133
(5% discount)
Non-KF US$140
(no discount)

The same seat fees are payable regardless of whether you hold a Premium Economy Lite, Standard or Flexi fare, or an award ticket. In other words, only status reduces (or removes) the cost.

There’s good news though. Once online check-in opens, which happens exactly 48 hours before departure time on SIA’s non-stop USA flights, additional premium seat selection costs are cancelled and any passenger can select any available seat for free within their cabin class.

That means there’s still a chance to secure one of these six coveted seats for nothing, however we recommend logging on to the manage booking portal exactly 48 hours before your flight departure time if you want to try and do this.

One benefit of low passenger loads in the current climate is that there’s a good chance of success with this strategy.

Redemption availability

With travel demand as it stands due to international border restrictions, you won’t be surprised to hear that award space on this route is wide open.

Every flight loaded for the rest of December 2020 and all of January and February 2021 has at least some saver award space in both Business Class and Premium Economy Class, with up to six award seats available on many flights.

As we’ve mentioned several times over the years, the 68,000 KrisFlyer miles award rate each way for Premium Economy redemptions on these flights simply isn’t worth it, with one-way and round-trip cash fares starting at S$1,100 and S$1,600 respectively between now and early 2021.

For a return routing, that would value the 136,000 miles you would have to part with at less than 1.2 cents each – a terrible rate closer to one usually associated with redeeming them against cash alternatives!

Summary

SIA’s reintroduction of the Airbus A350ULR into commercial service means all three of the carrier’s Airbus A350 variants is now active again, leaving only Airbus A380s in storage, while a few Boeing 777-300ERs operate mostly cargo flights and the passenger network is taken care of by A350s and B787s.

San Francisco goes ‘from zero to hero’, having been suspended from the network in March 2020 but becoming the airline’s most frequently served US city by February 2020 (albeit with its smallest capacity aircraft).

San Francisco will become SIA’s most frequently served US destination in early 2021. (Photo: Umer Sayyam)

If you are travelling on this route in the coming weeks and months, be sure to aim for seat 10A in Business Class (previously not selectable), but if you’re in Premium Economy we don’t necessarily recommend parting with the hefty seat selection fee for a ‘Solo’ seat.

Instead, jump online 48 hours before departure and try to secure one of those for no additional fee.

(Cover Photo: Singapore Airlines)

4 comments

    1. good morning, something that i cannot understand, when i look at the restrictions of entry in the country are many and the flights are coming up, how is this possible? I am wanting to issue flights with a stopover in Singapore, but I do not see such a possibility in the near future.

  1. What happened to all the award seats out of New York Q2 2021? Are they jus not sure what their schedule looks like yet for NY? Do you expect awards to come back?

    1. Everything has been wiped on the award side from the end of the currently confirmed schedule on 28/Mar through to 30/Jun as you say.

      I imagine this will be loaded again once they have added another month or two of confirmed flights and decided whether it’s still JFK non-stop or EWR may come back too, etc.

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