After a very slow start, Airbus A350-900 (A359) deliveries are gaining momentum. The first airplane was delivered to Qatar Airways (QR) in the end of December 2014. Since then, seven of this modern machines are flying in the Qatari livery and currently landing in the 6 different destinations.
For almost half a year QR had the exclusivity for this aircraft and was able to promote itself as the carrier with the most modern fleet in the world. This time was needed by Airbus to stabilize the production process and harmonize the supply chain. On June the 30th, the first A350 for Vietnam Airlines (VN) has been delivered, opening the new chapter in the project’s history. VN got 4 of this planes so far while another customer Finnair (AY) three (first delivery in October 2015). Finally, in the last month of 2015, Airbus handed over the first machine to TAM Airlines (JJ), while additional three clients are expected to take their aircrafts in the first half of 2016. In 2015 Airbus delivered 14 A350’s and for 2016 plans increasing this number to 50 planes.
Just before the Christmas in Toulouse, the first Airbus A350-900 XWB was handed over to TAM. This Brazilian airline is a part of LATAM Airlines Group which was created by the merger of TAM and Chilean LAN Airlines (LA). Currently, the company has its subsidiaries in Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Colombia. In 2015 the group carried around 68 million passengers who are a similar number to that from 2014. TAM has 33 wide-body airplanes at the moment (including one A350). The others are 10 Boeing 777-300ER’s, 14 Boeing 767-300ER’s and 8 Airbus A330-200’s.
The airline ordered 27 Airbus A350-900’s becoming the launch customer of this project for the Americas. The aircraft is equipped with 348 seats (318 in Economy Class and 30 in Business Class). The cabin interior is similar to LAN’s recently delivered Boeing 787-9 one. The “Premium Business” class has forward facing arrangement in a 2-2-2 layout and each seat, which transforms into the fully flat bed, is equipped with 15.4 inch HD screen. The economy class has 9 abreast seating configuration guaranteeing comfortable 18inch seat width due to extra wide cabin construction in the newest Airbus. The first route to which TAM deployed A350 connects Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) and Manaus’s Eduardo Gomes International Airport (MAO). GRU is the busiest airport in South America handling around 40 million passengers each year. On the other hand, MAO welcomed around 3,5 million travelers. Currently, there are 41 flights per week between the above airports, 21 of which is operated by GOL (G3) and the remaining 20 by TAM. One JJ flight daily is served by Boeing 767-300ER which is the only wide-body on that route. TAM would like to introduce A359 on GRU-MAO-GRU rotation for training as well as crew and ground staff familiarization reasons. New Airbus will temporarily substitute B763 on these legs. Additionally, it could help to cope with large cargo demands on that route.
Por Governo do Brasil – Portal da Copa, CC BY 3.0 br,
Manaus is well-known for its Free Economic Zone and chemical, computers and petroleum industries. As it is located in the heart of Amazon rainforest, it is also a popular destination for tourists. Air transport is the most convenient way to get to the city. The other options are by the river (thanks to the big port on Rio Negro River) and a highway connecting it with Venezuela. It has, however, no direct road to the main Brazilian cities due to its location in the middle of the Amazon jungle. Manaus has a population of 2 million and is a most important town in this hot and humid region. It used to be called “one of the gaudiest cities in the world” due to a mind-boggling wealth of those who benefited from the natural abundance of the rubber tree. The city became the center of Amazon rubber boom which caused its incredible growth in the late 19th century. This has ended however once the rubber tree seeds were transported to other regions and cultivated there on the plantations. The city deteriorated and only establishing of special economic zone put a new life into this place. The growth despite all the good also brought increased crime connected with the drug trafficking occurring on the continent. It doesn’t, however, keep thousands of tourists from coming to this magnificent place and experience the biggest and species-rich rainforest in the world as well its overwhelming beauty.
After domestic introduction TAM intends to send the A359 to the first international mission, putting it on Sao Paulo – Miami route. If everything runs smoothly, we may expect the first plane will take off from Sao Paulo and land on the runway of Miami International Airport (MIA) in March this year. The new route will connect the most populous and important city in South America with the US gateway to this continent MIA. Sao Paulo is the capital of the Sao Paulo State and the wealthiest city in Brazil, being a home to the stock exchange and the regional headquarter of the biggest international companies.
The growth of the city was caused by coffee production which is still important for the local economy. GRU airport has been a subject of many investments in its infrastructure lately. The most important part of the expansion was the construction of the brand new Terminal 3 focused mainly on international flights. The new building increased the capacity of the airport to 42 million passengers per year. This result may be however achieved in 2016 which means that the further expansions and improvements will be soon necessary. The other significant upgrade was improving one of airport’s two runways to enable largest aircraft like Boeing 747-8I operations.
Miami is one of the major international routes from GRU. It is currently served by four carriers. TAM and American Airlines (AA) each offer around 6,500 seats and 21 operations weekly (one way) being the biggest players on that route. The minor ones are Delta Air Lines (DL) and GOL (G3) both offering 4 flights per week while DL operates larger wide-body plane (B763). TAM rosters the best airplanes it has, serving Miami with both Airbus A330-200 and Boeing 777-300ER supported by twice weekly B763 flights. A359 will be the great addition to this route providing the great level of comfort onboard and impressive efficiency, becoming the “hottest” airplane flying between those two cities. MIA is very closely connected with Latin America market. It is American Airlines main hub for Central and South America operations, being also a focus city for Avianca (AV), LAN (LA) and TAM. The ties are also visible when we look at cargo traffic. MIA is the most important aviation hub for the goods transported from Latin America to the world. Both UPS and Fedex located their bases there, serving Central and South America. Miami handled 44 million passengers in 2015 while the route to Sao Paulo has been one of its the busiest international destinations.
GRU is the main hub for TAM, which headquarter is located in Sao Paulo. It is the biggest Brazilian airline both by fleet size and market share. The route from GRU to Madrid is the busiest intercontinental (excluding North America) destination from Sao Paulo. It is crucial for the carrier as Oneworld alliance partner Iberia has a strong hub at Barajas Airport (MAD). It is used by the connecting passengers traveling from/to various European cities. Four airlines are flying on that route. Iberia (IB) is the biggest offering more than 4,000 seats and 12 flights per week. It uses mighty Airbus A340-600 which offers decent 2-4-2 seat layout in economy class. TAM and Air Europa (UX) both serves one daily flight while Air China (CA) flies twice weekly. For CA it is a part of the longer route connecting Beijing (PEK) and Sao Paulo with a stopover in Madrid.
TAM currently operates to MAD with mixed B77W and B763 fleet. An introduction of A359, which may take place in April, will undoubtedly improve company’s competitive position in the market tempting the passenger to fly on board of the newest airplane on the planet. The plane has indeed a lot to offer. 18-inch wide seats, larger panoramic windows, LED mood lighting, spacious overhead storage bins, advanced air conditioning system, higher cabin pressurization (lower cabin altitude) which increases human oxygen absorption and reduces fatigue are only the most significant improvements on the board of this airplane.
Singapore Airlines (SQ) would also like to use the A350 merits to further elevate its passenger experience. Singaporean carrier is known for being one of the best airlines in the world, and the new plane should strengthen this image even more. The delivery of the first A359 has been delayed recently due to problems with toilets and seats installation. The producer of these components, company Zodiak has had manufacturing difficulties and was not able to supply the above elements. It is predicted that the new Airbus planes will be handed over to SQ in March while the entry into service will be late March or early April.
Singapore Airlines is the second biggest customer for A350, having ordered 63 of this planes in -900 version (including 7 newly launched ultra long range A350-900ULR). The only airline which will take more of this aircrafts is Qatar Airways with 80 planes, 43 in -900 version and 37 in -1000 larger variant. SQ plans to get 11 A359’s during the first year of aircraft operation. At first, the airline will fly its newest aircraft from its hub at Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) to Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta for the purpose of training and crew familiarization. SIN is an absolute benchmark for the airports around the world. It offers unrivaled quality, comfort and unprecedented level of care over a day to day operation as well as tiny details. SIN was named the best Airport in the World by Skytrax in 2015. The prize is only a small part in more than 500 large awards which Changi received so far. Every one of them shows the impressive work the airport authorities achieved in this small, ambitious country. In 2015 the airport handled around 55,4 million passengers.
Initially, SQ would like to send its A350’s to Jakarta in Indonesia and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. This should help the crews to familiarize with the new machine and train all the necessary procedures before the first intercontinental flights. Indonesia and Malaysia are the largest markets for Changi Airport. Jakarta is in the first place, among the cities, when it comes to traffic from SIN, while Kuala Lumpur is in the 3rd place. Those two are separated only by Hong Kong. Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (CGK) in Jakarta is the busiest airport in Indonesia as well as the whole Southern Hemisphere. The airport is fighting hard to update and modernize its facilities to be able to catch rapidly increasing traffic. In 2014 CGK handled an impressive number of 57 million passengers. Eight airlines are flying between Singapore and Jakarta at the moment. Both Singapore Airlines and Garuda Indonesia (GA) are the key players on that market performing 63 operations per week (one way). SQ offers more seats as it uses larger planes, Boeing 777-200’s and -300’s while GA operates only Boeing 737-800’s. Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) will be another early SIN A350’s destination. The airport is biggest in Malaysia and one of the leading in Southeast Asia. It handled almost 49 million passengers in 2014. SIN is an equally important destination for KUL so the decision to deploy A350 for that route is very interesting also from the marketing point of view. Although Singapore and Malaysia didn’t sign the Open Skies agreement, the airlines are able to serve the unlimited number of flights between SIN and KUL. That is why there are more than 52,000 seats each week on that route (one way). The leader is Air Asia (AK) flying 11-12 daily flights (one way), followed by Singapore Airlines (SQ and parent Silkair-MI) and Malaysia Airlines (MH). Five more carriers are flying between the airports. The real test for the Airbus A359 in Singapore Airlines fleet will be its first long haul destination to Amsterdam. The A350 in SQ will be equipped with 42 seats in Business Class, 24 seats in Premium Economy Class and 187 seat is Economy Class. It should start flying to AMS in April. Currently, there are 3 carriers serving SIN-AMS market. KLM and Singapore Airlines are the biggest OD carriers on that route, offering a daily flight each. Because KLM 777 has denser configuration it has a higher capacity, however, SQ inflight product quality is out of European carrier reach at the moment.
The third airline flying from Singapore to Amsterdam is Garuda Indonesia, which uses AMS airport both as a final destination and as a stopover on the way to London Gatwick Airport (LGW) depending on a day (from March 2016 Garuda will move to Heathrow Airport and will serve it non-stop from Jakarta). Some of the flights from CGK, Garuda is operating with a stop at Changi Airport, which has been connected with restricted maximum take-off weight at Jakarta worn runways. As a result, the full plane could not make it to Europe and need to be properly fueled in Singapore. The A350 on the route from SIN to AMS would make SIA offer even more premium and appealing for the passengers who cherish comfort and refinement. That is why it is very unlikely the new plane despite its fuel efficiency will cause a massive drop in SQ prices. Amsterdam Schipol Airport handled 58 million passengers in 2014 being a hub among other things for the Netherlands flag carrier KLM (KL) as well as Transavia (HV) or Delta (DL).
The second long haul destination where A359 in SQ livery will start flying soon is Dusseldorf. This city is the gateway to Rhine-Ruhr region which is the largest metropolitan region in Germany.
It is a home for industry leading giants like E.ON, Deutsche Telecom, Thyssen Krupp, RWE, Bayer, Evonik, Henkel or Hochtief. All of this makes Dusseldorf Airport (DUS) an important place to do business and fly to. The airport handled 22 million passengers in 2014 and was the 3rd busiest in Germany. SQ didn’t specify when will it start flying to DUS; however, some speculations say about early summer time. Described destinations are not all routes where Singapore Airlines is willing to put A350. The others may include Milan, Barcelona and Sao Paulo. We will find out about this in the second part of the year.
Next carrier waiting for A350, which will receive it probably a bit later than SQ, is Cathay Pacific. I will describe its future A350 destinations in one of my future posts.