Corporate Update: Singapore Airlines to offer lie flat product on all flights by 2023

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is aiming to become the first major airline to offer exclusively lie flat seats with aisle access in business class.


Highlights

  • Singapore Airlines has introduced a new regional business class product featuring lie flat seats in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration;
  • The new seat will be installed on 787-10s and regional A350-900s, replacing A330-300s and older model 777s, which now have angled flat seats in business class;
  • Singapore Airlines will offer a lie flat business class product on all flights within five years, potentially becoming the first major airline to offer exclusively lie flat business class seats with direct aisle access;
  • While transitioning to a 100% lie flat fleet will give Singapore Airlines a competitive advantage it has a much smaller short haul operation than competitors.

SIA expects to complete the transition to an all lie flat product within five years. The airline currently has a lie flat business class seats on 75 aircraft and angled flat seats on 37 aircraft, according to the CAPA Fleet Database. All the lie flat seats are in 1-2-1 configuration, while the angled flat seats are in undesirable 2-2-2 or 2-3-2 configuration.

The 37 aircraft, which includes 22 A330-300s, 10 777-200s and five 777-300s, will be replaced with new 787-10s and regional A350-900s within five years. SIA unveiled on 28-Mar-2018, a new regional business class seat which will be installed on both the 787-10 and regional A350-900. SIA took delivery of its first 787-10 in late Mar-2018 and plans to take delivery of its first regional A350-900 later this year.

The new regional business class seats are supplied by Stelia Aerospace with extensive customisation for SIA. The seats are 20in wide (or 26in when the armrests are lowered) and convert into a 76in fully flat bed.

The new regional business class product has relatively similar dimensions as the new long-haul business class seat, which SIA introduced in late 2017. The new long-haul product, which will be installed on SIA’s entire A380 fleet by 2020, has a 78in bed and 25in seat.

SIA had not introduced a new regional business class product since 2009. It has since introduced two new long haul premium products (for business and first class) – in 2013 and in 2017.

The product introduced in 2017 replaces a product that was initially introduced in 2006. However, most of SIA’s long-haul fleet, including its 777-300ERs and long haul configured A350-900s, will continue to have the business class product that was introduced in 2013. This product has a slightly wider seat, 28in, and converts into a 79in bed, but features the older flip down design which is unpopular with some passengers.

Business class passengers are able to convert their seat on the new A380 and on the 787-10 to a bed by simply pressing a button. The new A380 also has six business class seats that can be converted into couple seats. SIA does not offer the double bed option on the A350, 777-300ER or the new 787-10.

SIA has not yet announced the product for its small fleet of A350-900ULRs, which will be used to operate nonstop flights to the US in 2H2018. However, it will likely be a version of the new A380 seat.

SIA also has begun working on new business and first-class products that will be unveiled in 2021 and debut on the 777-9X. SIA will start replacing the 777-300ER when 777-9X deliveries begin in the fiscal year ending 31-Mar-2022.

In the marketing brochure for the 787-10, SIA highlights how its new regional business class product lets passengers “lie flat even on the shortest flights. So whether you’re flying for just an hour or seven, you can rest easy the moment you take off.”

While becoming the first major airline to offer a lie flat seat on all flights would be a significant accomplishment, SIA has a relatively small short haul network. SIA only has eight routes from Singapore of three hours or less. Two of these routes are less than two hours and the other six are two to three hours.

Most flag carriers from Asia Pacific and the Middle East have a much higher proportion of short haul routes than SIA. Several of SIA’s peers also now use their long-haul fleet on medium haul routes, including longer regional routes within Asia.

SIA now uses its regional fleet for flights within Asia Pacific of up to eight hours. While SIA also operates some regional flights with its long-haul fleet, several five to eight hour routes are only operated with the regional fleet and all these routes have overnight flights in one direction. Of SIA’s 39 routes within Asia-Pacific, only 12 routes do not have any overnight flights.

The other big difference between SIA and most of its competitors is SIA has a full service regional subsidiary SilkAir, which operates an all-narrowbody fleet. SilkAir has a much larger short-haul network than SIA, operating several routes which SIA previously served with its all-widebody fleet. SilkAir also now operates several medium haul routes of up to seven hours.

In 2017, SilkAir introduced a slightly upgraded premium product with its new fleet of 737 MAX 8s but continues to provide four abreast recliner style seats in business class. Several competitors are introducing lie flat business class seat on new generation narrowbody aircraft but SilkAir does not plan to follow this trend – even for its longest flights.

With SIA’s new regional business class seat and move to an all lie flat product, the gap between SIA and the SilkAir widens. Ultimately the SIA Group will need to address this issue. SIA’s all lie flat accomplishment is diminished somewhat given that SilkAir is serving a growing number of regional markets, several of which have or will have a lie flat product from competitors.

See related report: SilkAir set to improve its premium product for the Cairns and Darwin markets