Photographer: Bryan van der Beek/Bloomberg

Singapore Air Backs Two-Stop Flights as Manchester Gets A350 Boost

  • New Airbus wide-body operates to U.K. city and on to Houston
  • Frankfurt ‘hop’ will be retained for some New York services

Singapore Airlines Ltd. deepened its commitment to two-stop flights after deploying the world’s newest wide-body jet on services that call in at Manchester, northern England, en route to Houston, Texas.

The Asian carrier this week upgraded the flight, which it operates under so-called fifth-freedom rights, to Airbus Group SE’s A350-900 jet, of which it has only 10 in the fleet, from Boeing Co.’s older 777-300ER.

Singapore Air also serves New York via Frankfurt and will fly to Stockholm with a stop in Moscow from May. There may be scope for adding other such routes, Sheldon Hee, its general manager for the U.K. and Ireland, said in an interview.

Fifth-freedom flights, once a mainstay of long-haul operations, have become comparatively rare since longer-range aircraft opened up direct trips between most major population centers from the early 1980s. For Singapore Air, the two-city combinations help boost seat occupancy as it vies with Mideast carriers such as Emirates that serve most of the world via hubs in the Persian Gulf, and a new class of low-cost operators including Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA.

The switch to the A350 for Manchester flights also represents a vote of confidence in the U.K. following its vote to quit the European Union, Hee said. Direct operations to the city began on Oct. 30 after being announced on July 21, less than a month after the referendum, with the destination previously served as an extension of Singapore-Munich flights.

Oil Link

Hee said there has been no discernible impact on demand since the Brexit decision, which led to a sharp decline in the value of the pound, adding that “the U.K. travel market is quite robust.”

The Manchester-Houston leg is partly targeted at people working in the oil industry, the executive said, with a Flybe Group Plc code-share announced in November allowing connections to the U.K. oil capital of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Singapore Air plans to retain its New York-via-Frankfurt service even after it resumes direct flights from its home base to the American metropolis next year, Hee said.

Non-stop operations ended in 2013 after the aging, four-engine Airbus A340-500 jets deployed were rendered uneconomic by an increase in fuel costs. The route, the world’s longest at more than 9,500 miles, is due to resume with the ultra-long-range or ULR variant of the two-engine A350-900, Hee confirmed.

Singapore Air commenced a non-stop service to San Francisco last October, its first direct flight to the U.S. since the cessation of the New York route and another to Los Angeles which is also due to be restored next year. It currently serves the southern California city via stops in East Asia.

The carrier’s next new European city will be Stockholm, due to be served from May 30 via Moscow, again using the 253-seat A350-900, of which it has 67 on order. Flights to the Russian capital had operated onward to Houston until the Texan city was twinned with the Manchester service.

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