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Singapore Airlines kicks off its Boeing 737 MAX cabin refits

SIA's sole new cabin launch this year is inching closer, as refit work starts on the Boeing 737 MAX with Thompson Vantage seats.

It’s been over 10 weeks since SIA returned its first Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft from desert storage in Alice Springs to Changi Airport, following the start of a progressive ungrounding of the aircraft type globally after fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 caused its suspension from service.

The aircraft, 9V-MBA, has since been joined by a second MAX, 9V-MBF, which flew from Alice Springs back to Singapore on 26th February 2021.

SIA Boeing 737 MAX 8 Fleet

Registration Delivered Last commercial flight Current
Location
9V-MBA 1 Oct 2017
(age 3.5 yrs)
11 Mar 2019
MI985
WUH-SIN
SIN
9V-MBB 7 Nov 2017
(age 3.4 yrs)
11 Mar 2019
MI755
HKT-SIN
ASP
9V-MBC 19 Dec 2017
(age 3.3 yrs)
10 Mar 2019
MI985
WUH-SIN
ASP
9V-MBD 13 Apr 2018
(age 3.0 yrs)
12 Mar 2019
MI413
KTM-SIN
ASP
9V-MBE 4 May 2018
(age 2.9 yrs)
11 Mar 2019
MI971
CKG-SIN
ASP
9V-MBF 7 Mar 2019
(age 2.1 yrs)
11 Mar 2019
MI423
BLR-SIN
SIN

The four remaining aircraft in Alice Springs (9V-MBB to -MBE) are due to be progressively returned to Singapore, a process which requires a post-modification “operational readiness” flight, followed by the redelivery flight itself.

“Two Boeing 737-8 Max aircraft have been flown back to Singapore. The rest will be flown back progressively.”

SIA spokesperson

31 additional Boeing 737 MAX 8s are due to join the carrier directly from Boeing, several of which have already been built, though the specific delivery timescale for these aircraft has not been revealed.

Singapore Airlines recently concluded negotiations with Boeing, pushing many of its aircraft deliveries (and therefore capital expenditure) into the future, due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Retrofits are underway

On Thursday this week, 9V-MBA made its first flight from Singapore since it departed for Alice Springs back in October 2019, after nearly seven months of storage at Changi.

The test flight lasted around 1 hour 20 minutes, and followed the standard test route usually used by the airline for these operations, out to the east of Singapore over Indonesian waters before returning.

(Image: flightradar24)

While the aircraft remains in SilkAir colours, Singapore Airlines confirmed that this flight was required as part of the aircraft’s cabin retrofit, which will include flat-bed seats in Business Class and Wi-Fi installation.

“This was a post-modification test flight, conducted after the installation of a communications antenna related to the aircraft’s cabin retrofit programme.”

SIA spokesperson

Singapore Airlines is also in the process of retrofitting three remaining Airbus A380s with the latest cabin products, for a consistent passenger experience on the superjumbo post-COVID. That process is due for completion in the 2021/22 financial year.

The new Wi-Fi antenna on the 737 MAX is installed on the aircraft roof towards the back of the aircraft. It looks quite large on a narrow-body aircraft and is therefore easy to spot!

The new Wi-Fi antenna installed on 9V-MBA, spotted on its 11th March test flight. (Photo: BK Tan)

It’s even easier to see the ‘hump’ on this (unpainted) Norwegian Boeing 737 MAX in Seattle.

Wi-Fi was not installed on these aircraft while they were operating for SilkAir.

Sadly it’s impossible to see inside the aircraft, so we can’t confirm at this stage whether the new seat products have been installed yet.

Thompson Vantage Business Class

As we reported in February 2019, the Boeing 737 MAX marks the advent of flat-bed Business Class seats in the Singapore Airlines narrow-body fleet, with the Thompson Aero Vantage product chosen for these aircraft.

The good news is that the retrofit program is now underway, though SIA hasn’t yet said whether 9V-MBA sports the new seats in addition to the new Wi-Fi antenna at this stage.

These seats are already installed on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft operating for flydubai, with the Middle East airline also in the process of returning its fleet into service following the suspension.

Thompson Vantage seats on the flydubai Boeing 737 MAX 8. (Photo: flydubai)

We expect Singapore Airlines to install 10 of these seats in an alternating 2-2, 1-1, 2-2 layout, with the seats on the left side of the aisle looking like this from above.

That will mean two of the excellent ‘throne’ solo seats, with significantly increased storage space and direct aisle access.

Thompson Vantage ‘Throne’ seats are popular with solo travellers for additional privacy, storage and direct aisle access. (Photo: flydubai)

The aircraft is then likely to retain 144 seats in Economy Class with a 3-3 layout, for a total capacity of 154 passengers.

As part of the cabin upgrade seat back in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems will also be fitted in both Business Class and Economy Class cabins on these aircraft, and it now goes without saying that Wi-Fi will be available.

This will provide a consistent customer experience across the airline, which is currently a little lacking due to SIA having to take on board nine ex-SilkAir Boeing 737-800s with older cabin products as a temporary measure.

Recliner seats in Business Class on board the ex-SilkAir Boeing 737-800s. (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

Sneak peek at the SIA seats

As part of the merger between Singapore Airlines and SilkAir, a few promotional images have been used on the SIA site, a couple of which appear to ‘give away’ the upcoming flat-bed Business Class seats for the MAX fleet.

Here’s the ‘teaser’ image Singapore Airlines has shared on its website, showing a cabin crew member moving from a SilkAir Economy Class section into a Business Class cabin, which clearly features a newer seat product – not the ex-SilkAir recliner Business Class seats fitted to the nine Boeing 737-800s:

Before (click to enlarge)

After stitching it together with another image from a different website page about the SilkAir integration, here’s our best Photoshop work (feel free to let us know if you can do any better!), more clearly showing the seat outlines in the new Business Class section.

After (click to enlarge)

You have to squint a little, but these are the Thompson Vantage seats on the left side of the Boeing 737 MAX cabin in a 2, 1, 2 layout (for an overall 2-2, 1-1, 2-2 cross-section, had the right seats been included).

Granted, this is a computer rendering, not a real cabin, and so it may not match the exact seats as installed later.

Since the Vantage is an off-the-shelf product used by many airlines, there probably won’t be many surprises. One thing we can almost certainly expect is that the airline will match its colour scheme with the latest Regional Business Class seat fitted on its wide-body jets.

You only need to look to the 2018 Regional Business Class seats to know what colour scheme SIA has chosen for the narrow-body flat-bed seats. Consistency is key. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

That means soft brown leather upholstery, warm orange accents in the consoles and on the cushions, and a neutral pale grey/beige seat shell, are all practically guaranteed.

The MAX is still grounded in Singapore

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) is currently working towards lifting its suspension of Boeing 737 MAX operations, which technically remain prohibited by Singapore-based airlines and others serving Changi.

“We will need to be assured that all aspects of the safety of Boeing 737 MAX operations have been addressed.”

Tay Tiang Guan, CAAS Deputy Director General

The authority went on to say that it might add its own requirements for the MAX to be approved again, so there may still be some work for Singapore Airlines and Boeing to do before passenger flights from Changi with the type can be restarted.

“We will factor in compliance with the airworthiness directive and any additional requirements that we may impose, before we lift the suspension on Boeing 737 MAX operations.”

Tay Tiang Guan, CAAS Deputy Director General
9V-MBA returning from its test flight on 11th March. (Photo: BK Tan)

Here’s what Singapore Airlines has told us about the Boeing 737 MAX re-introduction:

“Singapore Airlines has received approval from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to fly the SilkAir Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft that are parked in Alice Springs back to Singapore.

“The safety of our customers and staff is the top priority at Singapore Airlines.

“We will continue to work with and be guided by our regulators on Boeing 737-8 MAX operations.”

SIA spokesperson

In February 2021, Australia became the first country in Asia-Pacific to lift its ban on Boeing 737 MAX operations, while several other overseas authorities including in the USA and Europe have already done so.

Where could Singapore Airlines fly the MAX?

The 737 MAX 8 has a range of 3,550 nautical miles, allowing SIA to potentially use it on flights as long as Singapore – Adelaide and Singapore – Tokyo.

The first Boeing 737 MAX 8 in Singapore Airlines colours is 9V-MBN, still undelivered. (Photo: Joe G. Walker)

Prior to the grounding in 2019, SilkAir was operating the aircraft between Changi and:

  • Bangalore
  • Cairns
  • Chongqing
  • Darwin
  • Hiroshima
  • Hyderabad
  • Kathmandu
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Penang
  • Phnom Penh
  • Phuket
  • Wuhan

Future routes for the fleet may also hinge on national approvals for the aircraft’s operation, since even when Singapore lifts its ban on the type it may take longer for some other countries (e.g. China) to follow suit.

SIA will need to convince passengers the MAX is safe

One of the major hurdles for airlines bringing the Boeing 737 MAX back into passenger service will be reassuring customers that it’s safe to fly.

Boeing already has a specific microsite outlining the changes made to the aircraft and the return to service process.

(Image: Boeing)

While several airlines are already operating the type, notably many of them are currently allowing people to rebook onto different flights for free if they are not comfortable flying on the MAX.

Though we’ve taken every safety measure, we understand you may want to wait to fly on a 737 MAX.

American Airlines

Alaska Airlines recently announced it was ordering 23 more brand new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to join its fleet, bringing its firm orders to 55 of the type. The airline has put together a comprehensive summary for its customers, primarily aimed at addressing why the Boeing 737 MAX is safe to fly.

Alaska started operating the MAX on passenger flights on 1st March 2021.

Alaska Airlines has ordered a total of 55 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft, plus 13 on operating leases. (Photo: Alaska Airlines)

American Airlines also has a dedicated page on its website regarding the 737 MAX, while flydubai has recently started to explain the process behind getting its MAX fleet safely back into passenger service.

flydubai infographic on Boeing 737 MAX return to service (click to enlarge)

The airline has even produced a video for customers, explaining the process.

We expect that Singapore Airlines will consider a similar campaign to reassure customers that the MAX is safe prior to service entry with either carrier.

Summary

With its Boeing 777-9 aircraft at least three years away from delivery, the Boeing 737 MAX Business Class looks set to be SIA’s only new premium cabin launch for some time to come.

This will bring with it the popular Thompson Vantage flat-bed seats, plus seat-back in-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi connectivity, the latter two also being extended to Economy Class passengers for a consistent experience for those connecting to or from the airline’s wide-body services.

Thompson Vantage seats. (Image: Thompson Aero Seating)

With regulatory hurdles still to overcome, and aircraft repaints still to complete, there’s still no firm timescale for the Boeing 737 MAX entering service with Singapore Airlines.

Having said that, there’s clearly a move to return these jets to Changi and proceed with the refit work over the coming months. Singapore does not have a conducive climate for aircraft storage, and with many international regulators lifting their ban on the Boeing 737 MAX it’s logical for CAAS to follow suit soon.

Perhaps by Q3, once leisure travel is hopefully beginning to reopen, you’ll have the choice of a flat-bed seat on the 737 MAX to some of SIA’s destinations.

(Cover Photo: Thompson Aero Seating)

7 comments

  1. Very sharp observations. I’m sure it will be a nicely customised Vantage seat befitting of the SQ brand. Krisworld seatback entertainment and Wifi will elevate the experience, making this the best narrow-body aircraft flying in the region. Can’t wait to see and fly on this aircraft.

  2. I doubt the response will be good as expected, its the legendary 737-800MAX that crashed twice due to design fault. The safety concern among passengers will remain for a long time.

    1. Yes indeed there will need to be a big PR drive from SIA and CAAS to reassure people about safety, though ultimately with 37 in the fleet we’ll probably all have to fly on one eventually, however we feel about it!

      1. Well, I personally would be looking at at least 3 years of safety records for 737-800MAX before taking one. Based on their range, they won’t be operating any monopoly destinations and there should be more than enough options from other airlines to choose from as well. I ain’t taking any chances on this one. I think Boeing really f-ed up this time.

    2. There’s no safety concern. If several agencies have given the go ahead, then it is safe. We cannot start questioning agencies about their safety. Don’t fly SQ then.

      1. LOLLL, your “follow rule” mentality is very concerning. You do know that the “several agencies” did give the 737-800MAX the go ahead after it was manufactured and launched right? And I hope your “Don’t fly SQ then.” is not referring to SQ operates only 737-800MAX fleet and nothing else. Bro your joke certainly made me laugh good today.

  3. First, the configuration is not good – if Swiss Business is anything to go by, it’s really a tight squeeze. Second, I don’t really want to fly on a 737-800 Max. Are we seriously going to go by the “expert assessment” of these agencies, who are also very much to blame for all those unnecessary deaths? Yeah, I think I’ll pass on this one.

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