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Making Sense Of Ultra-Long Haul Flights

By David Leo

Once upon a time, the honour of flying the world's longest non-stop commercial flight belonged to Singapore Airlines ("SIA") (OTCPK:SINGY). That was in June 2004, when the company launched its non-stop service from Singapore to Newark, New York, a journey of 19 hours on the Airbus A340-500 jet, covering a distance of 9,535 miles. SIA had earlier, in February of the same year, inaugurated a non-stop service to Los Angeles, flying 8,770 miles in 18 hours.

Both services had been terminated by the company - that to Los Angeles in October 2013 and that to New York a month later. Looking back, SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong cited the unsuitability of equipment for such a long flight that contributed to the unprofitability of both routes and their eventual discontinuation. He said:

"There isn't really a commercially viable aircraft that could fly non-stop." The airline is said to be talking with Airbus Group SE and Boeing Co. on developing a plane with new technology that would make flying non-stop to the US profitable. In Goh's words, "We, of course, want it as soon as possible."

With SIA out of the race, the world's longest flight today is operated by Australian flag carrier Qantas, from Dallas/Fort Worth in the US to Sydney in Australia, over a distance of 8,578 miles, and taking up to 17 hours. But that record will soon be broken when Emirates Airline mounts a service from Dubai to Panama City, Panama in February next year. The journey of 8,588 miles will take 17 hours and 35 minutes. And yet again, the title will pass on to another carrier, when Air India flies from Bangalore, India to San Francisco as planned, a distance of 8,701 miles that would take up to 18 hours of flight time.

Surely, there is more to the business of flying such a long route than the media hype that comes with it. In truth, a flight of more than 15 hours is hardly an exception. Middle East carriers are aggressively connecting US destinations directly with their home bases. Emirates is already operating from Dubai to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston. Etihad Airways flies from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas/Fort Worth. Saudi Arabian Airlines has a service from Jeddah to Los Angeles. Qatar Airways operates from Doha to Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth.

Besides Dallas/Fort Worth, Qantas also operates from Melbourne to Los Angeles. Air India already flies from Mumbai to Newark. American carriers are not left out of the game. Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) operates from Atlanta to Johannesburg. American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) has a service from Dallas/Fort Worth to Hong Kong. United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) also has a non-stop service to Hong Kong from Newark and Chicago, and to Mumbai from Newark, as well as to Melbourne from Los Angeles.

Other carriers that operate similarly long routes non-stop include Cathay Pacific (OTCPK:CPCAY) from Hong Kong to New York, Boston and Chicago in the US and Toronto in Canada; China Southern Airlines (NYSE:ZNH) from Guangzhou to New York, EVA Air from Taipei to Houston and New York, South African Airways from Johannesburg to New York and Air...