No more S'pore to NY non-stop

Singapore Airlines' (SIA) all business-class flight SQ22 takes off for the last time from Changi Airport at 12.30pm today - marking the end of non-stop flights from here to New York.

The 19-hour return leg from Newark Airport - the world's longest commercial flight at 15,345km - touches down on Monday morning.

There will be a "simple" reception for passengers before boarding at both ends, SIA said ahead of the last flight - none of the fanfare the world saw in 2004 when the airline launched the ultra long-haul flights to Los Angeles and New York.

The LA service was terminated last month.

After years of poor returns, SIA said in October last year it would pull the plug on the flights operated with the Airbus 345 aircraft.

All seemed well for SIA until 2008 when the global financial crisis forced businesses to cut travel spending.

This, and high fuel prices, made operating the four-engine A-345 - the only aircraft capable of covering such distance - unsustainable.

SIA's executive vice-president (commercial) Mak Swee Wah told The Straits Times recently: "It is a very good product which has been well-received and will be missed by many people.

"But it has unfortunately been killed by economics and the lack of suitable technology."

And miss it they will, said the passengers, such as lawyer Paul Ng, 46, whom The Straits Times spoke to. "Now I really have to think twice before agreeing to do a trip to New York," he said, having taken the flight several times.

Without SIA's non-stop service, he will need to break his journey in North Asia, Europe or the Middle East. "It is much more gruelling and adds many more hours to the flight."

Mr Berthold Trenkel, an executive vice-president at global travel management firm Carlson Wagonlit has been on the Singapore-New York flight "countless" times.

The 48-year-old said: "The long flight home didn't bother me. I enjoyed it - finally a flight where you can sleep twice. It's a real pity that the flight didn't work out commercially."

The A-345 round trip, which typically cost upwards of $10,000 - about $1,000 to $1,500 more compared to SIA's business-class one-stop service with a layover in Frankfurt, Germany - was well worth the convenience of a direct flight, travellers added.

Without the ultra long-haul flights, SIA will compete against more than 20 carriers including Emirates, British Airways, Delta Air Lines and Cathay Pacific that offer a one-stop service between Singapore and the United States.

British Airways' (BA) regional general manager for South-east Asia, Mr Robert Williams, said: "People travelling to New York from Singapore will now have to make the decision about where is best to stop over."

With London an attractive destination for both work and play, and the airline's new home at Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5, Mr Williams is convinced travellers will find BA a good choice.

Will SIA ever reinstate the ultra long-haul flights? Mr Mak said: "Who knows? One day, if there is an aircraft that can perform the mission economically, certainly it will be something to be contemplated."

Aviation expert Shukor Yusof from Standard & Poor's Equity Research is not as optimistic. "We don't see oil prices coming at a level where such non-stop flights make economical sense."

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