Why high fuel prices could mean trouble for ultra long-haul flights

The cost of fuel has already prompted airlines to increase the price of a ticket for their customers - but now there are fears that it could mean the cancellation of flights altogether.

This week, Singapore Airlines, which has already upped fuel surcharges several times over the past months, announced that it was to cut two of its seven weekly non-stop services between Singapore and Los Angeles.

The airline told AFP that the change to the route, which was only upgraded to a daily service six months ago, was "about matching capacity to demand."

However, the choice of route could be significant - Singapore to LA is the world's second-longest non-stop scheduled airline route, covering some 14,114 km and taking up to 18 hours to complete.

Ultra long-haul routes are generally regarded as less efficient than mid to long-haul flights due to the considerable weight of fuel in the aircraft at take-off and cruising, making them far less economic for airlines to operate when the price of fuel soars.

Singapore Airlines said that the decision was taken solely in response to the "supply and demand situation," although it admitted that it was feeling the impact of fuel prices, which have hit two and a half year highs in recent weeks.

However, analysis from the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation suggests that Singapore's two services between Los Angeles and Singapore (one includes a stop in Japan) didn't perform too badly last year, noting that while Singapore Airlines uses capacity adjustments to keep its long routes flying, other airlines have been less successful.

Thai Airways cut its ultra long-haul Bangkok to New York service after just three years, it said, while Air India has switched most of its long haul B777-200LR planes to shorter routes because routes to the US weren't popular enough.

"As fuel prices continue to increase more airlines are likely to axe, reduce frequencies or defer any consideration of launching routes which can only be operated with B777-200LRs or A340-500s," the publication concluded.

The world's longest flights

1. Newark, New York to Singapore - 15,345km (Singapore Airlines, Airbus A340-500)
2. Los Angeles to Singapore - 14,114 km (Singapore Airlines, Airbus A340-500)
3. Johannesburg to Atlanta - 13,582 km (Delta Airlines, Boeing 777-200LR)
4. Dubai to Los Angeles - 13,420 km (Emirates, Boeing 777-200LR, Boeing 777-200ER)
5. Los Angeles to Bangkok - 13,309 km (Thai Airways, Airbus A340-500)
6. Dubai to Houston - 13,144 (Emirates, Boeing 777-200LR)

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