Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tucked in for the ultra long haul

There’s a race on in the skies to see who can fly the longest distance non-stop. Last year Air India with its Delhi-San Francisco ultra long haul flight was the uncrowned king covering 15,127 kms in 15 hours. Qatar Airways’ Doha-Auckland flight covering 14,535 kms in 17 and-a-half hours, was longest in terms of time.

If you take a look at aviation data firm OAG’s list of the longest flights in the world, the pecking order keeps changing – close to the top is also Emirates’ Dubai-Auckland that takes 16 hours one way and 17 hours 15 minutes the other way. According to Essa Sulaiman Ahmad, Vice President, India & Nepal for Emirates, that flight shaved off three hours travelling time otherwise wasted in transit.

Come 2018, the records in ultra long-haul are all set to be broken. Next March, Singapore Airlines will restart its non-stop flight to New York that takes 19 hours. It will be using an Airbus A350-900 ULR plane – a new ultra long-range aircraft developed specially for flights up to 20 hours.

Qantas is upping its game too – in 2018 it proposes to fly non-stop between Perth and London, a distance of 14, 469 kms that will take over 17 hours. But it’s also pushing its two aircraft suppliers –Airbus and Boeing - hard to produce aircraft that can crack the 20 hour barrier and allow it to fly between Sydney and London and New York by 2022.

United Airlines launched Los Angeles to Singapore this October, using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and now has announced non-stop from Sydney to Houston which could take over 17 hours.

Out of India, apart from AI which flies a few ultra long haul flights to the US, there is United Airlines connecting Mumbai and Delhi to New York non-stop. Now there is buzz about Air India launching Delhi-Los Angeles non-stop as well.

All the Gulf carriers are using the ultra long haul to their advantage attracting Indian customers with direct connectivity to the US. Etihad’s Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles flight is its longest at 16 hours on a Boeing 777. But it is Emirates which connects five US cities (LA, San Francisco, Orlando, Houston and Dallas that is more aggressive. Says Ahmad, “ With our modern fleet of 777 and A 380 aircraft, and a future order of 787 Dreamliners we can access most part s of the globe allowing us to open and connect new markets if necessary.”
12/12/17 Chitra Narayanan/Business Line