Earlier this week Singapore Airlines announced its full-year financial results for the April 2020 to March 2021 period, with significant loss of S$4.3 billion posted. That was not unexpected, given the effects of operating through the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with large write-downs on older aircraft no longer rejoining the fleet.
For the first time in a while, SIA began to give guidance on its fleet development plan for the coming financial year, and while the group’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft were not included in the operating fleet table, the footnotes did give them a mention.
SIA will have 14 Boeing MAXs by March 2022
We confirmed with Singapore Airlines this week that eight Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft deliveries quoted for FY21/22, as mentioned in the financial results presentation (Slide 18), are in addition to the six aircraft moving across from SilkAir to the mainline carrier, meaning there will be 14 examples in the fleet by 31st March 2022.
“The eight Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft that we will take delivery of during FY2021/2022 are in addition to our existing six Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft that are grounded.”
The additional eight aircraft are those that have already been built and are currently stored in the USA, pending delivery from Boeing.
Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX Fleet and Deliveries
|Current MAX Fleet|
|Reg.||First Test Flight||Delivered||Livery||Location|
|9V-MBA||12 Sep 2017
(age 3.7 yrs)
|1 Oct 2017||SIN|
|9V-MBB||18 Oct 2017
(age 3.6 yrs)
|7 Nov 2017||ASP|
|9V-MBC||6 Dec 2017
(age 3.5 yrs)
|19 Dec 2017
|9V-MBD||21 Mar 2018
(age 3.2 yrs)
|13 Apr 2018
|9V-MBE||16 Apr 2018
(age 3.1 yrs)
|4 May 2018
|9V-MBF||18 Feb 2019
(age 2.3 yrs)
|7 Mar 2019
|Future MAX Fleet|
|Reg.||First Test Flight||Due||Livery||Location|
|9V-MBG||9 Mar 2019
(age 2.2 yrs)
|9V-MBH||30 Apr 2019
(age 2.1 yrs)
|9V-MBI||16 Jun 2019
(age 1.9 yrs)
|9V-MBJ||10 Jul 2019
(age 1.9 yrs)
|9V-MBK||18 Aug 2019
(age 1.8 yrs)
|9V-MBL||30 Sep 2019
(age 1.6 yrs)
|9V-MBM||23 Nov 2019
(age 1.5 yrs)
|9V-MBN||8 Dec 2019
(age 1.5 yrs)
ASP Alice Springs, Australia
MWH Moses Lake, WA, USA
SKF San Antonio, TX, USA
The eight new deliveries are currently in storage in the USA. As you can see, they already range from 1.5 to 2.2 years old, due to the prolonged grounding of the aircraft type by regulators.
9V-MBN, currently stored in Moses Lake, USA, has been in the Singapore Airlines livery since production, because it was originally planned to be the first direct delivery to the mainline carrier in early 2020.
After this initial batch of 14 Boeing 737 MAX 8s, Singapore Airlines has a further 17 of the type on order, for a total MAX fleet of 31 in the years to come.
Even if CAAS approves the MAX’s return to service in the short-term, it has not been confirmed whether SIA actually intends to introduce all 14 of these aircraft into revenue service by March 2022.
That would represent a significant operating narrow-body fleet totalling 23 aircraft, including nine older Boeing 737-800s, though this could tie in nicely with a pick up in demand post-pandemic.
The first refit has been completed
Last month Singapore Airlines confirmed that its Boeing 737 MAX 8 cabin refit programme had commenced, starting with its first aircraft returned from Alice Springs (9V-MBA).
Aside from a repaint from SilkAir colours, this also involves:
- Installation of flat-bed Thompson Vantage Business Class seats
- Installation of new Economy Class seats with seat-back entertainment systems
- The addition of Wi-Fi connectivity
The first aircraft has now had its refit work completed and was pictured at Changi in late April sporting its new colours, with the tell-tale Wi-Fi antenna on the roof.
Two other aircraft, 9V-MBC and 9V-MBF, have already been returned to Singapore from Alice Springs and are currently undergoing retrofit work.
The MAX has an impressive 3,550 nautical mile flight range, allowing Singapore Airlines to use it on routes as long as Singapore – Adelaide, Singapore – Seoul and Singapore – Tokyo in future, though it can also be used efficiently on short regional routes.
Thompson Vantage Business Class
As announced 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.
These seats are already installed on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft operating for flydubai, with some of the Middle East airline’s aircraft already back in regular service.
We expect Singapore Airlines to install 10 of these seats in an alternating 2-2, 1-1, 2-2 layout, with the five seats on the left side of the aisle looking like this from above:
That will mean two of the excellent ‘throne’ solo seats, one on either side, with significantly increased storage space and direct aisle access.
Here’s our predicted seat map for the Boeing 737 MAX 8 Business Class section:
It looks like seats 12A and 12K will be the ‘throne’ positions – top picks for solo travellers. It will be interesting to see whether SIA blocks these for advance selection to non-PPS Club members, like it does with other prime Business Class seats on selected aircraft, like the Airbus A350.
Singapore Airlines has already teased us with a (blurry!) computer rendering of the new Business Class Vantage seats on the 737 MAX.
In terms of the final product, we can expect the colour scheme to closely match the new wide-body Regional Business Class. That almost certainly means soft brown leather upholstery, warm orange accents in the consoles and on the cushions, and a neutral pale grey/beige seat shell.
2017 Economy Class
The 737 MAX aircraft are likely to retain 144 seats in Economy Class with a 3-3 layout, for a total capacity of 154 passengers across both cabins. These are expected to be the lightweight Recaro CL3710 model, with SIA’s own customisation.
The same ‘2017 Y’ product is currently installed on the airline’s new and refitted A380s, all 787-10s, all A350 Regionals and five newer A350 Long Haul aircraft.
Aside from a power outlet and USB charging port, the seats also feature adjustable headrests and additional storage areas for personal items.
Although it’s marketed as a “long-haul” Economy Class seat, the Recaro CL3710 is perfectly compatible with narrow-body aircraft, so it’s an obvious choice for SIA to stick with this seat for product consistency.
The seat is also currently used in Economy Class on the Boeing 737 MAX by WestJet and flydubai.
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, with Wi-Fi also available.
The SIA fleet by March 2022
Based on the latest CAAS aircraft register at 30th April 2021 and SIA’s latest financial update, here’s how the registered SIA fleet should develop between now and March 2022.
Registered Passenger Aircraft Fleet
|Aircraft Type||Fleet Totals|
Aside from the remaining Airbus A330s, which will be returned to their lessors by Q3 2021, this table assumes that other aircraft being withdrawn will have been formally deregistered by 31st March 2022, which might not be the case, though they certainly won’t be returned to service.
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
Here’s what Singapore Airlines told us earlier this year 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, UAE and Europe have already done so.
Around half of all airlines originally operating the Boeing 737 MAX before its grounding in 2019 are now flying passenger services again with the type, including:
- Air Canada
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Blue Air
- Copa Airlines
- Enter Air
- LOT Polish
- Southwest Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
- United Airlines
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 has been 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.
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 1st March 2021.
American Airlines also has a dedicated page on its website regarding the 737 MAX, while flydubai recently created an infographic to explain the process behind getting its MAX fleet safely back into passenger service.
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 the Boeing 777-9 unlikely to enter service with Singapore Airlines until 2024 or later, the new flat-bed Regional Business Class seats on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 will probably be the only new seat product launch for the carrier over the coming years.
Six of these aircraft are already beginning to undergo their retrofit programmes, having been in service with SilkAir and then stored in Alice Springs during the type’s grounding.
In its latest financial update, Singapore Airlines has now confirmed those will be joined by a further eight 737 MAX 8s already built by Boeing and currently stored in the USA, for a total fleet of 14 by March 2022.
That means we could see approximately one MAX delivery from Boeing each month between now and then, though the exact schedule has not been revealed, nor has any proposed service entry timeline.
(Cover Photo: Dillon Chong)