Singapore Airlines’ striking $US850m A380 upgrade

November 02, 2017
Singapore A380 new biz
The new A380 business class seat.

Singapore Airlines expects to roll out new cabin products to its entire Airbus A380 fleet by 2020 as part of an $US850 million upgrade aimed at reinforcing its industry leadership.

The airline unveiled new product Thursday that including a striking first class Suites product centered on a unique swivel armchair and an all-new business class seat surrounded by a futuristic carbon composite shell.

The new cabins are  the culmination of four years’ work involving extensive customer research, customer focus groups and a partnership with designers and manufacturers.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) chief executive Goh Phoon Phong told a big media contingent in Singapore  the airline was committed to new products and a long-term approach to retaining its industry leadership position

He said this and the big A380 investment demonstrated the airline’s confidence in the future of premium full-service air travel.

“We are confident that the result will genuinely wow our customers,’’ he said.

Singapore AIrlines A380 upgrade
Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong at Thursday’s announcement. Photo: Steve Creedy

Goh said the company’s research played a key role in determining in developing the features, functions and aesthetics of the product. It also defined underlying themes of more space, greater privacy and more attention to personal details.

“We’ve worked extensively to improve ergonomics to ensure everything our customers need is within easy reach while enhancing cabins and, of course, providing greater comfort,’’ he said.

“You’ll see … that we’ve taken bold steps to innovate and to push the boundary on what is possible in an aircraft.’’

The new product will enter service December 18 on Singapore-Sydney via the first of five new superjumbos the airline is taking to replace aircraft being handed back to lessors. The other four new A380s will be delivered in 2018.

Fourteen older A380s will be retrofitted between late 2018 and in 2020 and officials said the plan was to conduct the upgrade in Singapore with as little disruption to services as possible.

The new cabins come 10 years after SIA operated the first A380 scheduled service and bring it back to the seat count on that first flight of 471 seats.

This time, however, they are in a  four-class configuration with six Suites and  78 business class seats on the upper deck as well as 343 economy seats and 44 premium economy seats in the  lower deck.

Goh said the configuration had been determined by  a  more efficient use of  available space as well as demand-supply considerations.

The layout  sees more seats in the economy and premium economy cabins, although the airline has managed to do this without compromising comfort for economy passengers.  It retained the economy seat pitch at 32 inches and the width at 18.5 inches by rearranging  the cabin layout to create space.

Singapore Airlines Upgrade A380
Economy still has a 32-inch seat pitch and sports new features. Photo: SIA

The Recaro economy seats are also thinner and designed to offer improved ergonomic support. Other features include a six-way adjustable headrest with foldable wings, an 11.1-inch touch-screen monitor, a patented reading light under the monitor, storage for small items, a coat hook and in-seat power.

The airline’s six new Suites are aimed at providing wealthy passengers with a unique experience in private cabins Goh described as more spacious and exclusive.

Singapore Airlines A380 upgrade
The New A380 first class Suites. Photo: SIA

Read about the new Suites here.

But the changes in business class, which affect many more travellers, are equally profound.

Designed from the ground up, the new business seat differs from new-generation seats in the airline’s Airbus A350s and Boeing 777s.

Singapore Airlines A380 upgrade
The new business seat. Photo: SIA.

At 25-inches wide and with a seat pitch of 50-inches, it feels spacious and a center divider can be completely lowered to form a double bed.

Its carbon composite shell reduces weight by about 20 per cent, compensating for the addition of electric motors used to lower the seat and convert it into a 78-inch bed. This also addresses a criticism that the existing seat doesn’t have enough recline.

The shell creates a thinner base structure giving passengers room to store a standard-size cabin bag under the seat in front. There’s plenty of space to put laptops and other items for those wanting to work rather than take advantage of the 18-inch high definition touch-enabled screen.

Singapore is launching a new IFE feature called MyKrisWorld, which provides recommendations based in customer experience. It also Allows KrisFlyer members to create playlists as well as bookmark content and resume it on a subsequent flight.

One clever addition is a flip down arm rest that overcomes the problem in some seats of finding somewhere to park an elbow.

Singapore A380 new business
Business seats can convert into a double bed. Photo: Steve Creedy.

Goh did not rule out using the business class seat in other aircraft but said the medium-haul Boeing 787-10 would not be one of them. It has yet to announce the product for its ultra-long-haul A350s.

“Whether or not the business class will be used for other (aircraft) of our fleet, is something will announce at the appropriate time,” he said.

Premium economy is now in the forward section of the aircraft giving passengers  an enhanced sense of privacy.

The new cabins take advantage of developments in seat and in-flight entertainment technology since that time.

The airline did not include features such as a shower or a bar in the revamp for much the same reason they were not added in the first place: its customers tell it they prefer additional personal space and privacy.

“If you look at our current A380 product, many of the customers still think that we are industry-leading,’’ Goh told AirlineRatings. “The Suites, for example, and even with our business class on the A380, a lot of people appreciate the space, the comfort they have.

“But we must constantly innovate, we must constantly improve so that we can bring into the seat design, new concepts, new materials, new facilities that weren’t possible before.”

Goh again confirmed his support for the A380, saying the fact the airline had ordered five more superjumbos was a demonstration of SIA’s belief the aircraft was good for it on dense routes that were potentially slot limited.

But he said the airline was not increasing the size of its fleet beyond 19 aircraft.

Read: Airbus A380 dogged by uncertainty as it celebrates 10 years in service

Steve Creedy travelled to Singapore as a guest of Singapore Airlines.