Singapore Airlines earned a new accolade yesterday, as it pipped Qatar Airways to the title of “world’s largest Airbus A350 operator”, when it took delivery of a trio of brand new aircraft from Toulouse, bringing its fleet to an impressive 55 of the type.
The Airbus A350 now represents 41% of the airline’s registered fleet, and 66% of its current active fleet, operating 58% of Singapore Airlines flights in March 2021.
That means if you are still travelling with SIA at the moment, or you will be this year, chances are it’s an A350 that will be taking you to your destination, or winging you safely home.
The latest three jets are 303-seat Regional variants, and flew their 13-hour delivery flights within a four-hour window from France to Singapore, touching down on Saturday 3rd April 2021 as follows:
- 9V-SHT: 8.25am
- 9V-SHU: 10.20am
- 9V-SHV: 12.07pm
The aircraft are yet to enter regular service, but with 17 out of 19 A350 Regionals currently operating (only 9V-SHE and -SHF are inactive), it’s likely these three ‘new joiners’ will be cycled into service over the coming weeks.
Singapore Airlines seems to prefer accumulating its deliveries during COVID-19, with the previous four A350 Regionals being delivered in two pairs less than a week apart in October 2020.
While it does seem strange to take delivery of brand new aircraft in the current climate, SIA’s negotiations with Airbus have meant only 7 out of an original 12 Airbus A350s have been delivered over the last year, a significant slowdown compared to the previously agreed schedule.
Here’s the trio arriving into Changi yesterday:
With 53 Airbus A350s in the Qatar Airways fleet and the next largest operator Cathay Pacific boasting 40 examples, SIA has secured top position (for now) with its 55 aircraft.
|Airbus A350 Operators
by fleet size (15+ aircraft)
|Airline||Number in Fleet|
|Delta Air Lines||15|
Data at April 2021
On average, Singapore Airlines has now taken delivery of nearly one Airbus A350 per month since it received its first aircraft in early 2016.
Almost 1 in 7 Airbus A350s delivered globally are now operated by Singapore Airlines.
The A350’s ability fly further, but also operate efficiently on short distances too, has made them SIA’s ideal choice to replace a range of older planes, including A330s and 777s.
SIA’s 3 Airbus A350 variants
For more than two years, Singapore Airlines operated only one version of the A350, the Long Haul variant in a 3-class configuration, using it predominantly to replace 4-class Boeing 777-300ERs on many European routes.
The A350 ULR entered service in October 2018, re-launching non-stop flights from Singapore to Newark and Los Angeles in a two-class configuration with only Business Class and Premium Economy Class seats installed.
Later the same year it was a lower weight, lower thrust Regional variant that made its debut. With no crew rest areas, no Premium Economy cabin and the new higher-density Regional Business Class seats, it became the highest capacity version of the three with over 300 seats.
Here’s a summary of the three Airbus A350 variants in the fleet.
|In Singapore Airlines|
|Service Entry||9 Mar ’16||17 Dec ’18
||11 Oct ’18
(4 Apr ’21)
|Cargo Capacity||172.4 cu m||172.4 cu m||85.7 cu m|
* 9V-SMA to -SMU (21 aircraft)
** 9V-SMV to -SMZ and -SJA (5 aircraft)
You may have noticed in the Airbus A350 Long Haul fleet that 9V-SMV and onwards are the only five aircraft in that variant typically used on SIA’s non-stop Los Angeles flights.
That’s due to them being higher maximum weight jets, able to carry up to 5 tonnes of additional fuel for the same passenger load, which equates to around 500 miles of additional range compared to the ‘baseline’ 275-tonne 3-class A350s (9V-SMA to -SMU).
These five aircraft also have the newer 2017 Economy Class seats installed and, in common with the A350 ULRs, have redesigned winglets for better fuel efficiency, however the ULRs can still fly 1,600 miles further thanks to their special configuration.
Why does Singapore Airlines love the A350?
The Airbus A350 has become the mainstay of the Singapore Airlines fleet, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 2021, 50 of the airline’s 76 active wide-body jets (66%) were A350s and a further 15 were similarly fuel-efficient Boeing 787-10s.
The long range and low fuel burn of the A350s has meant SIA can deploy the aircraft efficiently across its entire network, with the Long Haul variant at one point used on both the shortest (Singapore – Kuala Lumpur) and longest (Singapore – New York JFK) flights on the network.
Here’s a look at the efficiency difference an Airbus A350 makes on a Singapore – Hong Kong flight:
|Fuel Burn Data
Singapore – Hong Kong
|Aircraft Type||Fuel Burn|
Source: ICAO Fuel Consumption Table (1,500nm flight)
Source does not currently include data for the Boeing 787-10
As you can see it’s a stark difference when compared to the older less efficient wide-body aircraft currently (and formerly) in the SIA fleet. While the 471-seat A380 is known for is inefficiency by modern standards, looking at the fuel burn data for the 264-seat 777-300ER is painful when you consider it on a per-seat basis.
The A350 Long Haul and Regional variants also benefit from significant underfloor cargo capacity, practically identical to the Airbus A380 and more than an A330 or 777-200 can carry.
What it has meant for Business Class seats
The rapid introduction of Airbus A350s in the Singapore Airlines fleet over recent years, combined with new Boeing 787-10s and some Airbus A380 retirements, led to the complete replacement of two Business Class seat types in 2020.
One of those was the relatively unpopular 2009 Regional Business Class, in a 2-2-2 configuration, now replaced by the latest 2018 Regional Business Class with direct aisle access in a staggered 1-2-1 layout.
These new seats are installed on all 22 of the airline’s Airbus A350 Regional aircraft, plus 15 Boeing 787-10s. We have a full review of the product from the inaugural Boeing 787-10 commercial flight from Singapore to Bangkok in April 2018.
Predominantly though, the 33 Airbus A350 Long Haul and ULR variants have allowed for the older 2006 Business Class seats to be replaced.
While these seats will be missed by many, their replacement on the A350 is the popular 2013 Business Class product.
These are slightly squeezed versions compared to those found on the Boeing 777-300ER, with less side console space and storage due to the A350’s narrower cabin, but are still a favourite among many of our readers.
Will the ‘largest operator’ title be retained?
Singapore Airlines has 12 more Airbus A350-900s on the order books, one of which is a long-haul variant (9V-SJB) with the others not currently allocated, while rival Qatar Airways still has 23 of the larger A350-1000s due for delivery.
Ultimately that will give Qatar a fleet of 76 A350s, while Singapore Airlines will finish up with 67.
That means SIA’s ‘victory’ as the largest A350 operator globally may be short-lived, though the carrier will remain the largest worldwide operator of the -900 series, based on current orders.
Emirates is the next big customer for the type, having committed to take 50 Airbus A350-900s for delivery from 2023, though the timescale has now likely slipped due to COVID-19.
This may be the first time Singapore Airlines has taken delivery of three aircraft on the same day, with this latest trio of Airbus A350 Regionals boosting its total A350 fleet to 55, making it the largest operator of the aircraft type.
Despite not really needing these three aircraft in the fleet at the moment, Singapore Airlines has committed significantly to the A350 as the backbone for its future fleet, due to their impressive efficiency and flexibility, and the delivery stream has been slowed by negotiation.
Good news for passengers when leisure travel returns is that more A350s means more new seat products, in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity and a quieter cabin.
For those who worry about their carbon footprint it’s also the aircraft to pick, with at least 25% less emissions per seat than an A380 on a route like Singapore to Hong Kong.
(Cover Photo: Plane’s Portrait Aviation Media / Malcolm Lu)