Singapore Airlines is dropping its exclusive all-premium non-stop flights to Los Angeles and Newark over the next two months. These flights are possible by using the A340-500 with its 9,000 mile range. Only the Boeing 777LR is in that league with approximately 9,400 miles range, with two engines instead of four. Only 34 A340-500s were delivered. Boeing has 59 777LR orders and 56 have been delivered. For Singapore Airlines this means the niche market of 100 seat aircraft flying non-stop are over. It will now have to compete for the super premium travelers in the market with the same one-stop routes as other airlines. Clearly the attraction of the non-stop service did not justify its continuation. The airline’s load factor across its network is 80%. Even at 80% the non-stop flights could not have been profitable. Airbus is taking these aircraft back, no doubt as part of the airline’s big A350 commitment.
Second hand values on the A340-500 are not great, a few are for sale here. Note how many days these airplanes have been listed for sale.
The desire by certain airlines to be able to fly from their home base to any spot on earth non-stop is economic folly for an OEM. The US-Singapore flights are about three hours shorter than a one-stop, and hardly worth the trouble of a sub-fleet. Even 8,000 mile range aircraft are pushing it. There are too few thick routes to exploit this range given the vagaries of airline economics. Lowest costs wins every time.
The A340-500 follows the path of an earlier four engined long range aircraft, the Boeing 747SP. The SP ended up being a useful VVIP aircraft, probably the smallest niche there is. We will probably see the A340-500 moving into this niche. When cost is no object, as with VVIPs, being able to fly anywhere non-stop is the “killer-app”. But for an airline this is the wrong goal because the revenue typically does not justify the investment.
Assuming what you say about “economic folly” is true, what do you think about future of the 777-8x (as currently proposed)?
An excellent question. One could ask the same of the 777LR. Because Boeing has economy of scale on the 777 program, it can do the LR without economic penalties. The -8x will likely to takeover from the current -300ER, which is a superb aircraft with a demonstrated big market demand. Boeing will have big twin from 210 to 450 seats using versions of the 787 and 777.
Perhaps the big follow on question is this: What is Airbus doing now to compete with the 777-9X? The A350 only covers part of the big twin segment. It must respond with a bigger twin, even if that threatens the A380-800. Of course Airbus may be forced to go to the A380-900, much to the joy of a certain Mr Tim Clark, who apparently has some interest.
The key difference ‘tween the 345 and the -200LR is that the latter it carries more than 230-50 pax with full baggage and freight. The said Clark has been clear that the -8X will be as important to EK as the -9X. He likes those 20 hour flights The -8X may be the Holy Grail of long haulers if it can do full pax, bags and freight from eastern Australia to Europe. Clark claims it will be capable of that. I don’t think long haul routes are mere niches. I do think that the SIA flight was that because it could carry only 100 pax, far under-performing the specs A had promised. But the -8X may be able to do it all up to 9400 miles. If it can, then how it re-shapes the mkt is hard to predict. We’ll have to wait and see. But I do think that the long range, highly efficient craft coming into service are changing the way airlines look at their routes. Slosar from CX said he bought 359/1000s because he could open new routes all over the world with them. I think LH felt the same way because in the end they bought the A359 instead of the 787-10, no matter how much they had previously criticized long haulers as over-engineered darlings of the Gulf carriers.
Dear John Leahy:
Once and for all! This is a good comment about the B777’s and one thing to do is about to reproduce the new Airbus A340-400 which is derived from the A340-500 which fly 8,400nm while the new Airbus A340-400E will fly up to 10,000nm and the wings, landing gear, fuselage and cockpit will be the same with the A340-500 and the 4 engines will be CFM56-5C from the A340-200/300 and kindly reproduce the new Airbus A340-700 which is derived from the A340-600 which will fly 8,300nm while the new Airbus A340-700E will fly 9,300nm and the wings, landing gear, fuselage and the cockpit will be the same with the A340-600 and the engines will be 4 CFM56-5C from the A340-200/300! Another thing is to reproduce the Airbus A340-500E with the 4 Rolls Royce Trent 500 engines that will fly up to 9,400nm while the Airbus A340-600E with the 4 Rolls Royce Trent engines that will fly up to 8,800nm.
Keep in mind that the 777-8 can de-fuel (and will for the most part) and fly the existing 777-300 routes and those are still fully viable one. There really is no 777-200LR aircraft to replace it size wise.
That truly is the question, even at 250 pax, can those routes make money. As they are finding with the A380, the answer is yes there are some it works for (and Emirates of course) but as a multi spectrum bird that works for a lot of airlines no. Keep also in mind that the 777-200LR also was the basis for the 777F which spread that cost out even further (and long term is going to vastly outsell the 200LR).
Grab em if you need them or buy them from current operators as that model will be gone.
And the A380-900 investment for just a marginal number of sales on a program going now where fast. Not even technology recovery for Airbus out of that one. I suspect Airbus will do the -900 when they get desperate for orders but I doubt they get the money from the 4 big spenders this time around.
What we need is a cost accounting of does Airbus make money or break even on the program knowing they never have to pay back the launch aid, can it still pay for itself and we would have the answer.