SINGAPORE, Jan 29 (Reuters) - U.S. airline United Continental will launch a direct flight from Singapore to San Francisco in June as low oil prices make ultra-long flights attractive again.
The route, at 8,446 miles (13,592 km), will be the longest scheduled flight operated by any U.S. carrier, and it will be served by two-engine Boeing 787 passenger jets, Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc said in a statement on Friday.
“United will be the first airline to offer nonstop service between San Francisco and Singapore, and this will be the only nonstop service to the U.S. from Singapore,” the company said, adding that daily flights are planned to start on June 1, 2016.
United said that the scheduled flight time was 15 hours, 30 minutes to 16 hours, 20 minutes. But, the westbound crossing to Singapore will arrive in Asia two days after leaving the United States because of the large time zone differences.
Flights from Singapore to the U.S. West Coast typically have to make at least one stop-over, usually in Tokyo, Hong Kong or Seoul.
By flying directly, these airports stand to lose business. United currently flies from Singapore to San Francisco with connections in either Tokyo’s Narita Airport or Hong Kong. The airline said it would end its flights between Singapore and Narita in June, but maintain its Singapore-Hong Kong flights.
Singapore Airlines also plans to re-launch direct flights to the United States, starting with Los Angeles and New York, although it will have to wait until 2018 when it takes delivery of its next generation Airbus A350 ultra-long haul planes.
Analysts said that the 70 percent crash in crude oil prices was a significant reason that long-haul flights are profitable again.
“Lower fuel prices certainly help the economics for ultra long-range flying,” said Singapore-based analyst Brendan Sobie at aviation consultancy CAPA.
With access to new technology, several airlines have been studying the U.S. to Singapore route after Singapore Airlines stopped flying between Singapore and New York, he said.
“It has always been an attractive market from a demand perspective, but I think it has been a cost issue and a matter of having the right aircraft,” said Sobie.
Singapore Airlines stopped direct flights to Los Angeles in 2013, when Brent crude futures averaged $108.70 per barrel, compared with just over $34 currently.
The airline flew the four-engine Airbus A340-500 on the route that used too much fuel to make it a profitable service.
Like Boeing’s 787, the Airbus A350 is a two-engine plane, and both are designed to be more fuel efficient than previous models. (Reporting by Henning Gloystein and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Singapore; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)