Singapore Airlines 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’ A350-900 jet, of which it has only 10 in the fleet, from Boeing’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, said Sheldon Hee, its general manager for the UK and Ireland.
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 centres from the early 1980s. For Singapore Air, the two-city combinations help boost seat occupancy as it vies with Middle East carriers such as Emirates that serve most of the world via hubs in the Arabian Gulf, and a new class of low-cost operators including Norwegian Air Shuttle.
The switch to the A350 for Manchester flights also represents a vote of confidence in the United Kingdom following its vote to quit the European Union, Mr Hee said.
He said there has been no discernible impact on demand since the Brexit decision, adding that “the UK travel market is quite robust”.
The Manchester-Houston leg is partly targeted at people working in the oil industry, mr Hee said, with a flybe code-share announced in November allowing connections to the UK 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, Mr Hee said.
Non-stop operations ended in 2013 after the ageing, four-engine Airbus A340-500 jets deployed were rendered uneconomic by an increase in fuel costs. The route, among the world’s longest at more than 15,300km, is due to resume with the ultra long-range or ULR variant of the two-engine A350-900, Mr Hee confirmed.
Singapore Air commenced a non-stop service to San Francisco last October, its first direct flight to the United States 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.
Follow The National's Business section on Twitter