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Singapore Airlines gets first Airbus A350-900, to run long-haul flights to Amsterdam

Singapore Airlines' new A350-900 is given a water-cannon salute as it rolls onto the tarmac at Changi Airport.
Singapore Airlines' new A350-900 is given a water-cannon salute as it rolls onto the tarmac at Changi Airport.

After a near ten-year wait, Singapore Airlines (SIA) has taken delivery of its first Airbus A350-900, which CEO Goh Choon Phong said would be a "game changer" for the flag-carrier.

The latest addition to the fleet was received with a water-cannon salute at Changi Airport in Singapore, after a long journey from the Airbus delivery center in Toulouse, France.

"The addition of the A350-900 exemplifies Singapore Airlines' longstanding commitment to operate a young and modern fleet," Goh said.

"The A350 will be a game-changer for us, allowing for flights to more long-haul destinations on a non-stop basis, which will help us boost our network competitiveness and further develop the important Singapore hub."

Singapore's Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, was a guest of honor for the arrival of the new aircraft.

The delivery marks the first step in the airline's major overhaul of its current fleet in the medium to long-haul range, in a bid to maintain its position as the standard-setting full service carrier in Asia.

The aircraft will be operated on Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur flights on a temporary basis while crew are trained on it, before being put to work on 13-hour flights to Amsterdam from May 9.

Singapore Airlines also plans to use the aircraft to add services to Dusseldorf, Germany, from July.

The airline will offer business, premium economy and economy class seats on the flights, as well as what Singapore Airlines' SVP for Marketing Planning Lee Wen Fen described as the world's most advanced in-flight entertainment system.

More power than 68 FI cars

The carrier said the addition to its fleet would offer customers an improved travel experience, with new features including higher ceilings, larger windows and special ambient LED lighting that is designed to reduce jetlag and project "special effects" onto the ceiling of the plane.

AirlineRatings.com Editor Geoffrey Thomas said the A350 gave Singapore Airlines a big advantage over other regional carriers because it allowed it to compete with airlines that had the Boeing 787.

"The A350 is slightly larger than the 787 and is a true Boeing 777-200 replacement," he told CNBC.

"The A350 is a major leap forward over the Boeing 777 in economics and passenger comfort thanks to its composite structure and new technology engines."

Airbus claims the A350 has 25 percent better fuel consumption than its current aluminum long-range competitors, and that despite being 68 times more powerful than a F1 racing car, it's also one of the quietest in its class.

According to Singapore Airlines, the first batch of A350-900s for long-haul flights will seat 253 passengers across the three classes of seating.

Competitive advantage

Singapore Airlines is Airbus's biggest customer for the A350-900, having placed its first order for the aircraft in July 2006.

It now has 67 A350s on firm order, including seven of an ultra-long-range model that will be delivered in 2018 for use on non-stop services between Singapore and the U.S.

Singapore Airlines expects to take delivery of 11 A350-900s in the aircraft's first year of operation and has the option to purchase 20 additional A350s.

AirAsia X, Air China, Asiana Airlines, Japan Airlines, Thai Airways and Vietnam Airlines have also placed orders for the aircraft, while Asian rival Cathay Pacific is set to receive its first A350 "in the coming months" according to reports.

"The Asian market is extremely competitive with China emerging as a big threat to traditional dominant players such as Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways," Thomas said.

"There is also long haul competition from the Middle East giants. Plus, recently old players such as U.S.-based United Airlines are dramatically up-gauging their product with 787s and offering new non-stops such as San Francisco to Singapore from June 1."

Profit tailwinds

Collapsing oil prices and subsequent lower fuel expenses are providing a tailwind for the airline industry, and Singapore Airlines has also seen decent growth within its affiliate airlines, SilkAir and Scoot.

The company posted a 36 percent increase in third-quarter net profit to S$275 million ($197.4 million) in February, achieved mainly through lower fuel expenses and gains from the disposal of aircraft, however the profit gain was partially offset by almost S$150 million in losses due to hedging and currency fluctuations.

While other carriers have delayed the retirement of older aircraft and remain cautious on the demand outlook at a time of weak global economic growth, Goh said he was confident the efficiency of the new aircraft would enable Singapore Airlines to introduce more new destinations.

CORRECTION:

This report has been updated to reflect that SIA's initial long-haul A350-900s will seat 253 passengers.

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