History Singapore Airlines

What happened to Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 757s?

Boeing 737-800s weren't Singapore Airlines' first single-aisle jets. The carrier operated a small fleet of 4 Boeing 757s in the 1980s. Why did they leave, and what became of them?

Last month Singapore Airlines started operating its first narrow-body passenger aircraft in over 30 years, with the introduction of the first of nine former SilkAir Boeing 737-800s into its fleet between Changi and Phuket – part of a plan to simplify the Group’s airline divisions into one full-service and one low-cost carrier.

We thought it would be interesting to have a look back at the last time the mainline carrier was operating single-aisle jets, and for that you have to wind the clock back to 1990 and take a look at an unusually small fleet of four Singapore Airlines Boeing 757s.

Which airline orders only four planes and then only keeps them for five years? Let’s take a look at the strange case of this tiny fleet.

Why was Singapore Airlines flying the Boeing 757?

In the early 1980s, Singapore Airlines was deciding on a regional aircraft to replace its six Boeing 727s and complement (or in some cases replace) its long-haul fleet for operations on shorter ‘trunk’ routes, like Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, plus selected longer intra-Asia services with thinner demand.

A Singapore Airlines Boeing 757 being pushed back from the gate at Changi. (Photo: Tim Rees)

Based on aircraft available on the market at the time, the choice was whittled down to two aircraft types – the twin-aisle Airbus A310 and the single-aisle Boeing 757-200.

Both were relatively new products at the time, entering service in 1983, but rather than commit to one or the other, as per standard industry practice, Singapore Airlines rather uniquely decided on an interesting strategy. Try a few of both!

Hang on, what is a Boeing 757?

If you’re based in Singapore or the Asia-Pacific region – it’s not a stupid question!

Roundly unpopular in this part of the world, the Boeing 757 made its name in North America and Europe as a high-density single-aisle aircraft with sufficient range to comfortably serve even the longest intra-continental routes, carrying upwards of 230+ passengers for 7 hours in some cases.

In particular the aircraft became favoured in the ‘Inclusive Tour’ market, with airlines linked to package holiday companies, a model not really seen in Asia but popular in Europe.

1,050 of the type were eventually produced, but only 77 (7%) of those were originally delivered to Asia-Pacific carriers.

That means 13 out of every 14 passenger Boeing 757s ever built performed the bulk of their flying outside this region.

The Boeing 757 was popular in Europe and the USA, but never really made a break in the Asia-Pacific market. (Photo: Michel Gilliand)

As such, Singapore Airlines became the first ever Asia-Pacific operator of the Boeing 757, which Boeing was selling as a direct replacement for the fuel-thirsty three-engined Boeing 727, promising 25% better fuel efficiency on a 500-mile flight with increased passenger capacity.

Boeing said, for example, that its larger 757 would use only 5.2 tonnes of fuel flying from Singapore to Penang, compared to 6.9 tonnes on a 727, plus it only needed two pilots – not three.

Overall, it meant a 45% reduction in operating cost on a per-seat basis between the two types.

Two types arrived in 1984

On 12th November 1984, Singapore Airlines took formal delivery of its first Boeing 757 in Seattle. After a short period of crew training, the aircraft was then delivered to Singapore on 24th November 1984, with the first of its ‘competitor’ type the Airbus A310 arriving in Singapore just a five days later on 29th November 1984.

The Boeing 757s had 180 seats, while the larger Airbus A310s had room for 218 passengers, with both types offering a First Class and Economy Class section.

Boeing was clearly on a mission to win hearts among the Singapore public, taking out full-page newspaper adverts to promote a plane it may have already thought was on the back-foot at SIA HQ.

FLY THE LEADER

Congratulations, Singapore Airlines, on your choice of the Boeing 757.

Starting today, even more passengers than ever before will be able to fly Singapore Airlines to destinations like Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. And do so in complete comfort, thanks to improved seat spacing, legroom and overhead stowage.

No wonder the advanced technology Boeing 757 is your choice for today and the future.

Boeing advert in the Singapore Monitor, 9th December 1984

The 757 entered service on the day of the newspaper ad – 9th December 1984.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 757-200 aircraft

Registration Delivered to SIA Departed SIA Fate
9V-SGK 12 Nov 1984 28 May 1990 Sold to ILFC

American Trans Air

Delta Air Lines
9V-SGL 26 Nov 1984 1 Dec 1989 Sold to ILFC

American Trans Air

Delta Air Lines
9V-SGM 11 Dec 1984 31 Oct 1989 Sold to ILFC

American Trans Air

Delta Air Lines
9V-SGN 12 Dec 1984 12 Mar 1990 Sold to ILFC

American Trans Air

Delta Air Lines

These aircraft were the 44th, 45th, 47th and 48th Boeing 757s built, added to the fleet in quick succession over a period of just one month.

Fun fact: SIA’s first Boeing 757, 9V-SGK, suffered an engine failure during a crew training flight in Seattle on 17th November 1984. It was then delivered to Singapore a week later (with two working engines!).

Where did SIA fly the Boeing 757?

In January 1986, when the airline’s four Boeing 757s had been in service for around a year, the route network for the type comprised just five cities:

  • Brunei: 4/wk
  • Jakarta: 15/wk
  • Kuala Lumpur: 49/wk
  • Kuantan: 1/wk
  • Penang: 5/wk

With 37 flight sectors per aircraft per week, an average of 5 per day, they were working fairly hard on the airline’s shortest routes. Most prominently, the jet was used on the Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta sectors.

During the same month, SIA was also operating its four ‘comparison’ Airbus A310-200 aircraft alongside the 757s, though the route network was already quite different, with those wide-body aircraft regularly visiting 13 different cities.

  • Bangkok: 14/wk
  • Beijing (via Shanghai): 2/wk
  • Brunei: 3/wk
  • Jakarta: 13/wk
  • Seoul (via Kaohsiung): 2/wk
  • Kuala Lumpur: 7/wk
  • Madras: 4/wk
  • Manila: 6/wk
  • Mauritius: 1/wk
  • Penang: 7/wk
  • Seoul: 1/wk

With some longer flights in the mix, the A310s were flying an average of 30 flights per aircraft per week (around 4 per day), including a weekly Mauritius connection, which sadly disappeared from the network long ago.

What were the decision factors?

With A310s and 757s operating side-by-side, Singapore Airlines could make a decision over its regional fleet direction.

Ultimately, the Airbus A310 won the day, for what we understand to be the following reasons:

  • Passenger feedback favoured the wide-body cabin of the A310
  • With two aisles, the A310 boasted quicker passenger loading and unloading
  • The Boeing 757 lacked ‘containerised’ underfloor cargo capability, and had 25% less freight capacity

While the airline didn’t remain particularly wedded to its initial batch of shorter-range A310-200s, the improved A310-300 with a higher certified takeoff weight and 5,000 nautical mile endurance, a 50% increase, sealed the deal for SIA.

The carrier went on to operate 23 of the type, comprising six A310-200s (four of which had already been delivered) and 17 A310-300s. The final A310 was retired from the Singapore Airlines fleet in August 2005.

Two Boeing 757s received the updated SIA livery

All four of SIA’s Boeing 757s were originally delivered in the airline’s older ‘second generation’ livery, which was applied fleet-wide at the time.

9V-SGK wearing its original ‘second generation’ SIA livery in March 1986. (Photo: David Carter)

The airline hasn’t adapted its livery much over the years, but the most significant change happened in 1988 when the yellow fan line beneath the passenger windows and the Kris motif were switched to a metallic gold colour, and the italic Singapore Airlines typeface on the mid-fuselage was enlarged and modernised slightly.

An orange “cheatline” was also added directly below the passenger windows and to the rear section of the tail plane.

9V-SGK wearing the new ‘third generation’ SIA livery in January 1998. (Photo: Geoff Goodall)

Although their tenure in the airline was short-lived, two of the Boeing 757s (9V-SGK and -SGN) picked up the new livery before they left the fleet a couple of years later.

9V-SGL and -SGM, on the other hand, were not repainted and left the fleet in the original pre-1988 colours.

Since then there has been very little adaptation to the SIA livery, the most notable change in 2007 being a relocation of the Singapore Airlines titles from mid-fuselage to the front, a larger typeface and the SIA logo being removed from the engines.

The Singapore Airlines livery hasn’t changed much over the last 30 years. (Dmitry A. Mottl)

What happened to the aircraft?

All four of SIA’s Boeing 757s were sold to International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC), the world’s largest aircraft lessor, now known as AerCap.

They didn’t leave the fleet in age or original delivery order, with 9V-SGL departing first in December 1989, followed by -SGK and -SGN nearly six months later in May/June 1990, then finally -SGM left in October 1990.

ILFC placed these four aircraft with American Trans Air, who operated them on worldwide charters for around six years. The airline specialised in military (troop) charters for the U.S. national defence.

N751AT (formerly 9V-SGK) in service with American Trans Air. (Photo: Aero Icarus)

In 1996, all four aircraft were sold to Delta Air Lines, where they then served for over 20 years before being scrapped in 2017, having completed around 40,000 flights each since first entering service with SIA.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 757 Fate

  9V-SGK 9V-SGL 9V-SGM 9V-SGN
Sold to ILFC 28 May 1990 6 Dec 1989 31 Oct 1990 12 Jun 1990
Delivered to ATA 1 Jun 1990 19 Dec 1989 16 Nov 1990 12 Jun 1990
New registration N751AT N750AT N757AT N752AT
Returned to ILFC 18 Sep 1996 18 Sep 1996 26 Sep 1996  14 Oct 1996
Bought by Delta 22 Nov 1996 19 Sep 1996 26 Sep 1996 4 Nov 1996
Last Delta flight 2 Mar 2016
(SLC-ATL)
17 Mar 2016
(MSP-ATL)
14 Oct 2016
(OGG-ATL)
29 Apr 2016
(AUS-ATL)
Registration cancelled
(Age)
9 May 2017
(32.6 years)
9 May 2017
(32.5 years)
3 Nov 2017
(33.0 years)
9 May 2017
(32.5 years)
Total flight hours 96,873 Unknown 94,927 97,620
Total flights 40,739 Unknown 39,324 40,250

Source: B757.info

Singapore Airlines Boeing 757 Fate

  9V-SGK 9V-SGL
Sold to ILFC 28 May 1990 6 Dec 1989
Delivered to ATA 1 Jun 1990 19 Dec 1989
New registration N751AT N750AT
Returned to ILFC 18 Sep 1996 18 Sep 1996
Bought by Delta 22 Nov 1996 19 Sep 1996
Last Delta flight 2 Mar 2016
(SLC-ATL)
17 Mar 2016
(MSP-ATL)
Registration cancelled
(Age)
9 May 2017
(32.6 years)
9 May 2017
(32.5 years)
Total flight hours 96,873  Unknown
Total flights 40,739  Unknown
  9V-SGM 9V-SGN
Sold to ILFC 31 Oct 1990 12 Jun 1990
Delivered to ATA 16 Nov 1990 12 Jun 1990
New registration N757AT N752AT
Returned to ILFC 26 Sep 1996  14 Oct 1996
Bought by Delta 26 Sep 1996 4 Nov 1996
Last Delta flight 14 Oct 2016
(OGG-ATL)
29 Apr 2016
(AUS-ATL)
Registration cancelled
(Age)
3 Nov 2017
(33.0 years)
9 May 2017
(32.5 years)
Total flight hours 94,927 97,620
Total flights 39,324 40,250

Source: B757.info

For context, Singapore Airlines typically retains aircraft for only around 15 years from new. These aircraft achieved more than double that!

N750AT (formerly 9V-SGL) still going strong in 2016, pictured here just weeks prior to its retirement, departing Los Angeles for Minneapolis. (Photo: Aero Icarus)

Summary

Just as Singapore Airlines reintroduces narrow-body aircraft into its fleet, in the form of the Boeing 737-800, it’s interesting to look back three decades to the carrier’s last experience with a single-aisle jet.

Ultimately SIA opted for the wide-body Airbus A310 over the Boeing 757, but the four aircraft it trialled went on to have an incredibly long life, initially with American Trans Air but most notably with Delta.

Boeing 757 9V-SGN taxiing for departure at Changi. (Photo: Tim Rees)

It would have been interesting to see a larger Boeing 757 fleet in SIA, though the airline seems to have had sound reasons for instead opting for the Airbus A310, and in any event even a beefed-up 757 fleet would probably have only served until the mid-2000s given SIA’s preference for younger aircraft.

This time round, with an initial fleet of nine Boeing 737-800s, and eventually 37 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, Singapore Airlines seems much more committed to a future including single-aisle jets in the decades ahead. The MAX jets in particular are now starting receive cabin refits including flat-beds in Business Class.

Did you ever fly on a Singapore Airlines Boeing 757? Let us know your experiences in the comments section below.

(Cover Photo: Tim Rees)

5 comments

  1. I remembered B757 fondly as a kid when I flew the KUL-SIN trunk flight. I found the plane to be new, have wider seats and very comfortable during that time.

  2. I frequently flew SQ 757 727s & 737s in the mid 70s thru to when they were retired or sold. Alsoflew the A310 many time to/from Dubai Dacca Colombo early 90s.

  3. Actually the “latest” livery was introduced in 1987 when SIA was celebrating their 40th anniversary, not in 1988

  4. The fact that Boeing was trying to push ETOPs certification, ultimately killed their prospects in Asia as nobody wanted to agree to it after seeing just how much more expensive, and how intrusive the US would be entrenched.

    I had read that widebodies took off in Asia, particularly because of the Asia mindset and us being used to a lot of people. Reportedly, Asia boards and disembarks passengers the fastest on a widebody.

    As a cabin crew myself previously, it amazes us how fast passengers wanna go home, especially when arriving in Singapore where A380 is completely disembarked in under 20mins.

  5. I enjoy these retrospectives very much, Andrew. Great research, please keep them coming. I’d love to read more about the history of the PPS Club (I gather it was started in 1984) with a look back at what it was like then and how it’s evolved alongside the Krisflyer program since 1999.

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