The appetite for ultra-long haul services has surfaced again even as the values of previous generation of aircraft dedicated to such routes experience the fate of Icarus.
The values of the A340-500 and B777-200LR have plummeted in recent years after the few operators of the two types failed to achieve the returns necessary for continued operation. The imminent arrival of the A350-900ULR and to some extent, the B787-9, have offered operators new opportunities without needing to go to the expense of adding another aircraft to their fleet. The seven A350-900ULRs ordered by Singapore Airlines are to be used on the Singapore-New York route. The type though does not involve any changes to the basic A350-900 design. The extra 1,600 nautical mile range is achieved by using space that already exists in the fuel tanks and as such there is no difference in the production standard to the normal A350-900 beyond some minor changes to fuel pipes and venting. The aircraft may not be able to fly with a full payload but as long as the operator is able to charge a premium then a profit is still attainable. To all intents and purposes the values of the A350-900ULR will be the same as for the highest weight A350-900. There will be a need to consider the interior configuration as this will reflect a much lower density seat plan and seeking to use the A350-900 will therefore likely result in a costly change in the configuration. The Qantas B787-9s serving the London to Perth routes have only 236 seats and Singapore already appreciates the payload restrictions caused by headwinds when previously operating the A340-500 on ultra long haul routes. Passengers may be more amenable to 17 hour sectors due to the better on board environment due to the lower cabin altitude. However, with the aircraft being used on long haul services, then the hour to cycle ratio will be that much higher with the times remaining on the engine LLPs being significantly better than on a standard A350.
Qantas is pursuing Project Sunrise which sees a need for an aircraft that can serve routes between Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York direct. With SIA already set to operate the SIA-NYC route then a precedent has been set. Rolls-Royce may need to improve the Trent XWB engine slightly to achieve the requirements of Qantas on the A350-900 and even the A350-1000. The B777-8 will also be a candidate for such ultra long haul routes but again both the A350 and B777-8 will probably need only relatively minor changes to the fuel capacity. This again indicates that the A350 and B777s will not be ultra-long haul specific and will be able to marketed as standard A350s and B777-8s when being placed onto the used market though the values of most larger widebodies have failed to enjoy success in the long term.