Will SIA’s new cabin products launch on the Airbus A350-900ULR instead?

SIA's upcoming A350-900ULR maintenance has sparked rumours they might emerge with its long-delayed new cabin products- but sadly, that's not on the cards.

It’s no big secret that Singapore Airlines’ new First and Business Class seats are ready to go- and have been for a few years now. The airline signed off on the designs back in November 2021, and a select group of elite flyers have already seen the finished product, their lips sealed by watertight NDAs.

The long-delayed Boeing 777X | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What’s holding up the show is the aircraft on which it’s meant to debut: the Boeing 777-9. Originally scheduled for a 2021 delivery, the latest timeline places its arrival in late 2025, with early 2026 a distinct possibility! 

That’s led to speculation that even though 2024 won’t see the arrival of the Boeing 777-9, it might see the the debut of the new Business Class seat- albeit on the Airbus 350-900ULR instead.

Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to see the new cabin products sooner rather than later, it looks like we’ll need to pour some cold water on those rumours…

No refits planned for 2024

Singapore Airlines A350-900ULR | Photo: Airbus

What sparked the initial speculation is the fact that from May 2024, SIA will be sending its seven Airbus A350ULRs for maintenance and reworking its schedules accordingly. 

Daily A350-900ULR flights to New York and Newark will be maintained, but 7x weekly A350-900ULR flights to San Francisco and 4x weekly A350-900ULR flights to Los Angeles will be replaced by A350-900s, in particular the “extended range” subvariant which pushes the envelope to 8,100 nm (versus 7,750 nm for the original). This puts the whole of West Coast USA within reach, with minimal (if any) weight restrictions.

✈️ Fun Fact
Back in 2020, the inaugural non-stop flight to New York JFK was operated by an extended-range variant of the A350-900, since COVID-era flight loads were low enough to make such a route possible!

The revised schedule allows SIA to operate its North American routes with six A350-900ULRs instead of seven, freeing up one aircraft to enter the hangar at a time. It will take up to 40 days per aircraft to perform the necessary checks, so that’s a total of nine months across seven airframes, bringing us to February 2025 when the current schedule is restored. 

On the surface, it seems like this could be a golden opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: carry out the necessary maintenance, and emerge with some shiny new cabin products.

But unfortunately, that’s simply not the case. I spoke to a few folks at SIA and the consensus, in so many words, is an emphatic  “not happening”. 

One source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me that the plan is still to wait for the Boeing 777-9 to arrive and launch the new cabin products then. My understanding is that Boeing has provided assurances to SIA that it will receive at least one 777-9 by end-2025, and given that the airline has historically had no more than a six-month gap between product announcement and debut (they’re not Lufthansa, after all!) this points at a mid-2025 unveiling

However, the same source also told me that there is (unsurprisingly) a refit plan in place for the Airbus A350-900ULRs and some of the Airbus A350-900s, and should the Boeing 777-9 encounter further delivery delays, then it’s certainly possible we could see the new products debut on the Airbus A350 instead. 

Either way, however, that won’t be a 2024 thing. Barring some major development, there’s no new product launch planned for this year. 

The case for an A350 debut

But even if a 2024 unveiling isn’t on the cards, I can think of a case for debuting the new cabin products on the Airbus A350 instead. 

The obvious problem is that the Boeing 777-9 is just taking too darn long. When SIA ordered the jets back in February 2017 (20 airframes, plus a further 11 converted from Boeing 787-10 orders), the first deliveries were scheduled to take place in 2021.

SilverKris Magazine, April 2020. That aged well!

I think we all know what happened there. Enough ink has been spilled on the debacle that is the Boeing 777X programme, suffice to say that Boeing is now on what it hopes will be the home stretch, with type inspection authorisation (an important milestone that means the aircraft is ready for FAA pilots to perform the onboard flight tests required for certification) expected to come in February 2024.

However, SIA isn’t even the first in line for the Boeing 777-9, and with Emirates, the likely launch customer, only expecting to receive their first aircraft in October 2025, we still have a considerable wait on our hands.

So SIA is in the awkward position of having brand new seats that are collecting dust in the proverbial closet (though it’s hardly the only airline in this situation; Cathay Pacific has a similar predicament). With every month that passes, the materials, the technology, the design language, all of which were supposed to be cutting edge, become less and less so.

SIA has said that the Boeing 777-9 delays will give it additional time to “review some designs, re-look at and double-check some things like technologies (and) to look at different materials before the final selection”, but there’s really only so much you can do without going back to the drawing board. If the new cabin products do indeed launch with the Boeing 777-9, it’ll be more than four years from the time they were (for all intents and purposes) finalised. That’s an eternity in the aviation industry.

Singapore Airlines 2013J seat

That brings us to the second problem: while it’s not a bad seat in and of itself, the current long-haul Business Class found on the Airbus A350-900LH/ULR and Boeing 777-300ERs was never supposed to have this long a tour of duty.

Known as the 2013J (2013 being the year of introduction), the seat was already a modest upgrade on the 2006J at launch, and though it ticks the important boxes of direct aisle access and full-flat bed, it lacks modern features like USB-C and wireless charging, Bluetooth audio connectivity, and of course, doors. For my money, Qatar Qsuites, ANA The Room, Delta One Suites, Etihad Business Studio, and STARLUX’s A350 Business Class offer far better hard products.

Singapore Airlines 2013J seat
Singapore Airlines A350-900 Business Class
Singapore Airlines 2013J seat

It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that SIA must have a version of the new Business Class seat destined for the Airbus A350s, since they’re here for the long-haul- quite literally. These planes will see service into the 2030s and beyond, and will still be flying when Changi Terminal 5 finally opens!

❓ Does it really matter?

While I firmly believe that the 2013J seat is no longer competitive, I’ll be the first to admit that I could be overestimating how big of a competitive handicap it is for SIA.

After all, the kind of details that we in the miles community obsess over are generally not representative of the flying public at large, who place a higher value on things like timings and direct flights. And to the extent that the Business Class seat ticks the two most important boxes of direct aisle access and a full-flat bed, they may be willing to close one eye.

In that sense, bells and whistles like 4K screens and Bluetooth audio connectivity might be appreciated, but they don’t in and of themselves drive someone to pick one airline over another. A frequent business traveller who prioritises time over everything else might prefer a direct flight on SIA instead of a connection in Doha, even if QSuites is a superior hard product. 

The way I see it, bringing forward the launch of the new Business Class seat by debuting it on the Airbus A350 would achieve a few things for SIA: 

  • It would create some much-needed buzz for an airline which has been uncharacteristically quiet on the hard product front
  • It would kickstart the renewal process for the Airbus A350s, as they continue to form the backbone of the fleet for the next decade
  • Real-world testing would provide valuable feedback which could then be used to tweak the seat that eventually makes its way to the Boeing 777-9s
  • Since the Airbus A350 doesn’t have First Class, there’s still an opportunity to create further excitement when the Boeing 777-9 eventually comes. In other words, instead of announcing the new First and Business Class at the same time and have them compete for attention, why not split it up?

As it is, we’re already going through the longest lull in the introduction of a new Business Class seat since the turn of the century (even longer if we ignore the 2017J, since it has an extremely limited deployment of just 12 Airbus A380s). Waiting till the Boeing 777-9 arrives isn’t going to help.

💺 SIA Long-haul Business Class Seats
Year of IntroductionSeat
1998Ultimo
2002
(+4 years)
Spacebed
2006
(+4 years)
2006J
2013
(+7 years)
2013J
2017
(+4 years)
2017J
Late 2025/Early 2026
(+8/9 years)
2025/2026J
SIA launched a new Business Class seat in 2021, but this is a regional product that will only feature on the B737 Max 8

My wishlist for the new Business Class

In August last year, I wrote about the features I’d like to see the most on SIA’s next generation Business Class, including a more couple-friendly layout, doors, a recline to flat design and up-to-date tech. 

My wishlist for the new Singapore Airlines Business Class seats

Of course, it’s not just Business Class that will be getting a revamp on the Boeing 777-9. There are also plans for a new First Class, Premium Economy and Economy Class seat, so it’ll be a tip-to-tail overhaul of cabin products.

Conclusion

While Singapore Airlines continues to take a “wait and see” approach with the Boeing 777-9, there must be a tipping point at which they decide to bite the bullet and make the Airbus A350 the debut platform.

To my knowledge, that tipping point has not yet been reached, but if there’s further delays who knows? 

Do you think we’ll see the new Business Class seat debut on the Airbus A350s first? 

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Unclever

Not me thinking scanning the pixelated image thinking its a QR code linking to the actual product

Nobody

Do replacement A350s have 2013J or 2018R? The 2018 seats are cute for short flights but too claustrophobic for US routes. I like the acreage of 2013J despite its high maintenance operating experience, especially if you can snag 11K

Hanzel

I just want to sleep straight. 🤩 I cannot deal with angled sleeping no more.

siaoone

I feel like a tip-to-tail overhaul would create a starker contrast in cabin offerings between planes, and there’s a chance it may create an impression of inconsistency as well. Another benefit of a staggered rollout of new products starting from the A350 could also spread out the time between refreshes and maintain better consistency throughout the course of each cabin product.

H H

Great sharing! From a PR angle, I do think that it’s worth splitting up the first and business class news so that you can generate more buzz.

Of course, it helps if there is any refinement based on user feedback which could also be positioned as the airline taking in these comments.

IAN ASSUMPTION

SQ have never been known for their capacity to develop flexible thinking patterns – cognitive rigidity is both a strength and a weakness – years of av geeks and passengers complaining about the awful business “beds” has done little to shift their thinking – perhaps their “research” tells them that their crew’s service style “compensates” for this. Their strength in terms of service delivery (perfectionism, attention to detail and anticipation-based style) needs to be weighed against the degree to which they need to own their poor decisions about the the comfort of their J “beds” which are chronic and pre-date… Read more »

Timo

The seat will never please you. I’d fly with another airline. Oh poor Singapore Airlines, they must “reap what we sow.” Maybe word!

Matrix.RX1

I vouch for such an answer. SQ crew on a good day is simply stellar, on a bad day very dependable, although as a Solitaire I acknowledge my treatment is not the norm. Knowing how expensive a seat can be, I just think that it is best for any airline, including SQ, to deflect the blame of the seat (which for the 2013J is still miles ahead of many other C classes out there) wit their crew performance.

Timo

It doesn’t sound like the seats have been produced as they are still picking out fabrics, features etc. Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. These seats will debut with the latest in technology and be very nice to sit/lie down in for short and long periods of time.

Tom

Am I the only one who things they peaked with 2006J? Wish they’d have just upgraded the TV and things like charging plugs but kept the seat as is!

blackforest

Personally, I prefer the 2006J, which is much better than the 2013 design, the most important thing is the 2013 version somehow has lots of wear and tear, On my last week trip back to Singapore, the whole edge of the screen fell down, the glue between the components are not working anymore, and the quality of the product is quite bad.

Christian

Having just seen some basic renderings of the new Cathay business class seat I hope that Singapore goes with a wide seat themselves. The Cathay seat looks pretty tight in the shoulders.

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