The inaugural test flight of the new Ultra Long Range version of the Airbus A350 this week starts the countdown to Singapore Airlines once again becoming the operator of the world’s longest commercial air service. The aircraft, the latest variant of the A350 XWB Family will be able to fly further than any other commercial airliner and is due to enter service with launch operator Singapore Airlines in the second half of 2018, serving the Singapore – New York city pair… non-stop!
- The first production A350-900ULR made its maiden test flight at the Airbus facility in Toulouse, France on 23-Apr-2018;
- With a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 280 tonnes, the Ultra Long Range airliner is capable of flying over 20 hours non-stop, according to Airbus and could open up new non-stop flight routings across the globe;
- Singapore Airlines has ordered seven A350-900ULRs for long-haul routes, including the return of non-stop services between Singapore and New York;
- First aircraft is expected to be delivered to Singapore Airlines in Aug-2018 and enter scheduled service in Q4 2018.
The heavier aircraft, which has been developed specifically to operate specialised long-haul routes, took to the air for the first time from the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, in the south of France, at 10:45am on 23-Apr-2018 and completed a 4 hour 45 minute test sortie before returning to the airport. A second flight took place on 24-Apr-2018 as the aircraft, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, embarks on a short, intensive flight test programme.
The test programme will certify the changes over the standard A350-900 that will extend its range capability to 9,700 nautical miles. These changes include a modified fuel system that increases fuel carrying capacity by 24,000 litres, without the need for additional fuel tanks.
It will also test and measure enhanced performance from aerodynamic improvements that will deliver an additional 1% improvement on efficiency. These include a slight modification to the wing and the introduction of extended winglets compared to the baseline version. These modifications will latter become standard on all future production A350-900s.
With a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 280 tonnes, the Ultra Long Range airliner is capable of flying over 20 hours non-stop, according to Airbus and could open up new non-stop flight routings across the globe. Its design means operators of the type can also easily reconfigure the aircraft to the standard -900 specification, if required.
Singapore Airlines is currently the only confirmed customer for the version, although many other operators have been studying the aircraft closely. These include Philippine Airlines and Qantas, but both have found the aircraft didn’t meet their operational criteria. The latter is now considering a further version of the aircraft as part of its Project Sunrise to deliver planned non-stop flights from Sydney to London and New York.
Singapore Airlines has ordered seven A350-900ULRs, which it will use on non-stop flights between its Singapore Changi International Airport hub and additional destinations in the United States of America (USA), including the landmark return of non-stop services between Singapore and New York. The carrier previously served the route using an A340-500 between 2004 and 2013 but cancelled it due to the growing costs of flying the four-engined jets.
“Our customers have been asking us to re-start non-stop Singapore-US flights and we are pleased that Airbus was able to offer the right aircraft to do so in a commercially viable manner,” the airline’s CEO Goh Choon Phong when it first announced its intent to acquire the aircraft back in 2015.
Alongside New York, the aircraft is also expected to be used between Singapore and Los Angeles. The Asian carrier already uses its baseline A350-900 on its Singapore – San Francisco route, a mere 17-hour flight and another contender for the ULR as it suffers some weight restrictions. Singapore Airlines is one of the largest customers for the A350 XWB Family, having ordered a total of 67 A350-900s, including the seven ULR models. The carrier has already taken delivery of 21 A350-900s. As At the end of Mar-2018, Airbus had recorded a total of 854 firm orders for the A350 XWB from 45 customers worldwide.
Airbus still remains fairly tight-lipped over the timetable for the aircraft’s certification and entry into service and continues to simply use the rather generic ‘second half of 2018’ target. The first aircraft is expected to be delivered to Singapore Airlines around August, according to sources, and will likely enter scheduled service at the end of October, perhaps operating on some regional routes ahead of that time. The airline has yet to confirm the exact seating configuration for the aircraft, but like its A340-500s previously, will be a mix of just premium seating with business and premium economy options.