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Singapore Airlines' implicit judgment on 787 & A350

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Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced an interesting move this week regarding the ongoing battle between the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. It ordered 20 A350s while at the same time shifting its order for 20 787s to subsidiary long-haul low-cost carrier Scoot.

While not stating so explicitly, SIA, one of the world’s most influential airlines, essentially determined that the A350 is better suited to traditional mainline operations, particularly medium-to-long range flying, while the 787 is a better aircraft for long-haul low-cost services.

It is hard to say this is an indictment or an endorsement for either of the rival aircraft.

Boeing can point to Scoot supporting what it has been saying about the 787, namely that its fuel efficiency, particularly over long distances, will drive profitable flying. Scoot CEO Campbell Wilson noted that the 787’s “fuel efficiency will help keep ticket prices low.” It plans to configure its 787s to carry more than 300 passengers.

Airbus, meanwhile, can point to SIA lauding the A350 for passenger comfort and potential profitability on shorter routes. SIA CEO Goh Choon Phong, when announcing the order, noted “our confidence in the strength of the market for premium full-service travel.”

Again, it wouldn’t be fair to conclude SIA is saying one aircraft is better than the other. But it certainly has decided that the planes have different attributes: The 787 may be best on the longest-haul routes, particularly if a carrier wants to keep ticket prices low. But the A350 may be better on medium-to-long routes, particularly those catering to high-end passengers willing to pay top fares.

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