By GAURAV RAGHUVANSHI
April 8, 2016 1:12 a.m. ET
SINGAPORE—Airlines are looking again at a distinction that had almost become dubious in recent years: the world’s longest flights.
Emirates Airline started flying nonstop to Auckland, New Zealand from its Dubai hub last month. The flight, which lasts more than 17 hours, is now the world’s longest, ahead of Qantas Airways’ Dallas-Sydney route.
Ultralong flights are back in favor as airlines look to make the most of fuel prices hovering near multiyear lows and newer generation planes that are more fuel efficient, enabling them to tap passenger preferences for nonstop routes, despite the hours in the sky and fuel they consume.
United Airlines has announced a nonstop flight between Singapore and San Francisco starting June. Qatar Airways has announced services that include an Auckland-Doha route, which will be longer than the Emirates flight when it starts later this year.
Such routes remain expensive because aircraft need to burn fuel just to carry the weight of the extra fuel carried for a long flight. Extra crew, food, and drinks for the longer journey add to the weight.
Singapore Airlines Ltd. operated the world’s longest flights for several years until it stopped nonstop services to Los Angeles and Newark in 2013, citing high fuel prices. However, it last year announced it would be the launch customer of a new variant of the Airbus Group A350 jet that will allow it to resume nonstop flights to the U.S. that will last more than 18 hours.
The new Emirates Auckland-Dubai route uses Boeing Co.’s 777-200LR jet, currently the most popular aircraft for ultralong flights where LR stands for long range.
Several Asian airlines, which face heavy competition for passengers from Persian Gulf based carriers, now plan to use relatively smaller newer generation jets to fly nonstop to more cities in Europe and the U. S.—a business that was eroded by airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways offering one-stop services via their hubs in Dubai or Doha at cheaper rates.
The new generation Airbus A350 and Boeing’s 787 consume up to 20% less fuel than older jets and when flown on nonstop routes can help airlines improve their aircraft utilization rates, or the amount of time in a day that an airplane is in flight—a common measure of productivity.
“The ability to fly longer ranges and cost savings present opportunities for Asian carriers to gain back market share from Middle Eastern airlines,” said Owen Murphy, the director of business development for Radixx International Inc., a U.S.-based airline reservation system.
But efficiency remains a challenge and such routes are hostage to the price of oil.
Emirates in March postponed the launch of an even longer route between Dubai and Panama, citing a review of commercial demand and the global economic outlook. The airline told The Wall Street Journal it would aim to launch the flights by the end of 2016 or early 2017.
Original article can be found here: http://www.wsj.com