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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.

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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.

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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 a