How Airbus Can Afford to Make Just Seven Ultra Long-Haul Jets
(Bloomberg) -- Airbus SE has seen widespread popularity for its newest A350 long-haul aircraft. But only one carrier, Singapore Airlines Ltd., has found the need for an ultra long-range version of the A350 that can fly almost 10,000 miles, from New York City to Southeast Asia—nonstop.
Airbus completed the first test flight of the ULR version on April 23 as part of a certification program for the plane. It’s building only seven of them right now, for delivery this year—a tiny number when one considers the economies of scale inherent to airplane manufacturing. The secret? Well, it turns out that it’s not that much trouble to soup up this hot rod.
The ULR doesn’t require additional fuel tanks over the standard A350-900, but instead uses additional space already available in the existing tanks to carry an extra 6,340 gallons of fuel to take its range to 9,700 nautical miles, or 1,600 more than the standard -900. Airbus said the plane can stay aloft for more than 20 hours at a time.
“For us, it’s really just a -900,” Marisa Lucas-Ugena, Airbus’ A350 marketing director, said Thursday in an interview. “The only thing that is really specific for the ULR is the additional fuel. And even on that, we are using the space we already have. It’s really just a minor evolution of that system with additional piping and additional venting.”
The changes to make an A350-900 into the ULR have “no impact” on the production lines in Toulouse, France, Lucas-Ugena added, with the manufacturing time the same for both versions. Airbus aims to churn out 10 A350s a month by year’s end, and currently has 832 orders for the A350 family.
Singapore’s purchase of just seven of the ULR variants is part of a larger order of 67 A350s—a sizable request from a 40-year customer that makes any extra customization work palatable for a supplier. Singapore also flies the Airbus A380 and A330, and is a past customer of the Airbus A340, A310 and A300.
The carrier plans to receive the aircraft later this year, and commence its nonstop flights from Singapore to New York on Oct. 11, landing at Newark Liberty International Airport. The airline also plans to use the plane to fly nonstop to Los Angeles. The carrier flies the A350-900 on its current nonstop route to San Francisco, a flight of almost 17 hours.
If a total order of seven ULRs seems low, well, it’s of no consequence at Airbus. Says Lucas-Ugena: “It doesn’t really matter—we want to sell more A350s.”
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