Delta eying nonstop service to Singapore?

Late last year Singapore Airlines announced they’d be discontinuing the two longest flights in the world, operating between Singapore and Newark/Los Angeles. The service will terminate later this year, and the reason for the flights being axed is that Singapore is retiring their A340-500 aircraft, the only ones in their fleet capable of operating those flights nonstop.

Via AsiaOne, it looks like Delta wants to jump in and take over the nonstop flights at some point in the near future:

TOKYO – American carrier Delta Air Lines is ready to move in when Singapore Airlines pulls the plug on its non-stop flights to the United States later this year.

“Our main focus is to win and secure the corporate business class market,” said Delta’s managing director for Asia Pacific, Mr Jeffrey S. Bernier.

Speaking to The Straits Times at the airline’s Tokyo hub recently, he added: “Corporate business travellers want non-stops so historically, SIA has had the lion’s share of the business in two of the largest US markets – Los Angeles and New York.”

Now, the way this article is written (or at least the way I read it) doesn’t make it totally clear that they intend to pursue nonstop service to Singapore. They instead note that business travelers like nonstop flights and that they want to secure corporate business contracts between those cities, which doesn’t necessarily have to translate to nonstop service.

I think Delta is a bit naive to think they have a product that’s competitive with Singapore’s, though:

“We have clearly differentiated ourselves from other US carriers. We want to compete head to head with the Asian carriers.

“We’re investing not only in the product but also staff training so we can take care of our customers.”

I’m not sure in which way they think they’ve differentiated themselves from other US carriers, especially as far as their Singapore service goes, given that they operate their Singapore to Tokyo Narita service with a 777, which features herringbone seats in business class. Meanwhile their 747s feature reverse herringbone seats similar to those on American and Cathay Pacific, which are much more competitive, in my opinion.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see if Delta tries to step in and replace the nonstop flights. Short of some serious corporate discounts I doubt Delta will be able to secure much of the market share that previously went to the nonstop flights with a single daily 777 to Tokyo Narita that leaves early in the morning.

If they do plan on offering nonstop service to the US out of Singapore they’d have a much better chance at securing the market share, though I still have to wonder about the economics of operating the service. Singapore just couldn’t make the service work, both when they had a two cabin configuration and also when they had an all business class configuration. Yes, admittedly the A340-500 is a gas guzzler, though if they thought the service could work long term something tells me they would have picked up a few 777-200LRs to operate the service.

It’s just so expensive to operate an ultra longhaul flight given the added weight of all the extra fuel that has to be carried and the limited potential to carry cargo. If Delta were to start the route I also have to wonder whether they’d reconfigure their 777-200LRs in a configuration with more business class seats, or if they would operate it in the same configuration they have now.

What do you guys think? Could Delta make this service work?

(Tip of the hat to Jim)

Comments

  1. Delta would be the last airline I would fly nonstop from the US to Singapore. If flying to Asia from the US I always try to fly Asian airlines since even their coach service beats business class service on US airlines.

  2. The rotation would require at least 3 airplanes to operate with competitive timing. With no widebodies scheduled for delivery in the next few years, DL would have to cancel or downgauge existing routes to get the aircraft time to operate the trip. I’m saying no to this one, just like the rumored SEA/JFK-HKG flights. Of course, this could change if the DL/VS joint venture results in a major rationalization of LHR capacity. Moving some of the DL LHR frequencies to VS metal could create a cascade effect opening up some 777 time, but I’m not holding my breath.

  3. Product offering aside, I think the only reason one would take DL to SIN (or even BKK) is to chase DL status (since SkyPesos have been devalued so much). DL’s arrival and departure times to these cities are simply too inconvenient. Taking, for example, CX through HKG, one could arrive in SIN in time for a drink before bed, vs. getting to the hotel at 2:30-3:00 am. And returning to the US, one could actually have an early breakfast at the hotel, instead of waking up in the middle of the night to catch a 5:30 am flight.

  4. I think this is a doable route for delta. To obtain the routes will take a year-plus, but I think that if delta can configure a 777-2LR for the route, they can capitalize on the gap left by Singapore. Also, leaving out of JFK may add marginally more connecting passengers.

    To say that most Asian carriers’ economic service beats US intl business class service is just ridiculous.

  5. @Gene–actually, I don’t know that DL flies any 777’s to LHR. Looking at today’s schedule, for example, they have 9 flights to LHR (3x ATL, 3x JFK, 1x BOS, 1x DTW, and 1x MSP), and 6 of those are 764’s, and 3 are 763’s. I think that’s pretty typical. So VS bearing more of the load really wouldn’t open anything up in terms of the 777 fleet.

  6. “We have clearly differentiated ourselves from other US carriers. We want to compete head to head with the Asian carriers.”

    Yeah, good luck with that Delta. :-

  7. SQ would love to keep the ULH but the A340-500 are just too thirsty: If you google the topic, the 772LR obviously burns 20% less fuel for the adjusted same payload. I was told that SQ burns 1,500kg of fuel per pax on SIN-EWR – that’s 1,500 USD just in fuel cost each way…

  8. @ SMK77 — Agreed, though I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Singapore didn’t pick up a few 777-200LRs to operate this service long term if they saw potential in it. They’re such a leader and average fleet age is so low that I just figured it would’ve been a given.

  9. @DW – The late arrival and early departure times are due to the connecting bank structure in NRT. If DL tried SIN non-stop, ideally the times would be at better times, since you don’t have to worry about the NRT connections.

  10. @ DiscoPapa — Right, with their current route structure to Singapore Delta doesn’t have a choice, but I think if they want a chance at gaining any market share they’ll have to have more conveniently timed flights.

  11. Hi lucky
    This link and the comments gives some reasons why SQ stuck to an A345. (my summary below)
    One reason was that with a 1-2-1 layout in full C, there wasn’t much more seats/(suites?) you could put in a B77L because it wasn’t much longer (although wider).
    Another reason was that the A345 could fly at reasonable high altitudes on 3 engines (> FL320, while a B77L could only do 260). This poses some issues, such as in increased fuel burns necessitating a diversion instead of flying on to the original destination, and being unable to fly across regions like the himalayas en route to europe from asia, because the peaks are higher than FL200.

  12. The reason why they don’t pick up new planes is that they can’t get them for free. I am taking that they basically got the 345 for free. Now that they are just so unprofitable, they are using their right to return the 5 jets to Airbus (who is likely to retire them).

  13. The Wiki’s top 30 flight list is missing a few currently scheduled commercial flights. Two came to my mind that I flew recently: IAD-PEK and JNB-PEK

  14. @ UA_Flyer — Both of the flights that you mention are shorter than the 7,488 mi LAX-SYD route that currently is 30th on the list. IAD-PEK is 6,921 mi and JNB-PEK is 7,269 mi.

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