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Airbus is making the world smaller, and our nonstop flights longer. The very first A350-900 ULR (Ultra Long-Range) aircraft took off from Airbus’ manufacturing headquarters in Toulouse, France on Monday, completing its first test flight as Airbus prepares the airplane for delivery to Singapore Airlines later this year. It will be used to relaunch the Singapore to New York flight, which will become the longest nonstop in the world.

The aircraft, registered F-WZNY, flew for 4 hours and 40 minutes over France and the Mediterranean before returning to Toulouse.

The flightpath of F-WZNY
The flightpath of F-WZNY’s first flight, the very first Airbus A350-900 ULR. Image courtesy of Flightaware


The A350-900 ULR, the super long-range version of the existing twinjet widebody, will be able to carry more fuel and fly quite a bit farther than the existing A350-900. So far, in fact that it will make feasible some ultra long-haul flights that were once either out of reach or uneconomical. Singapore Airlines — so far the only customer of this specialized aircraft —  hopes to take full advantage of this increased range with nonstop flights to New York City (probably Newark, EWR) and Los Angeles (LAX), two routes it once flew with the four-engined A340-500 but terminated in late 2014 due to high operating costs. Airbus hopes other long-haul airlines like Australian flag carrier Qantas will also take interest in the plane, particularly as Qantas begins connecting distant cities with nonstop flights, like their new Perth to London nonstop service. Airbus claims the ULR will have a range of 9,700 nautical miles — over 10,000 statute miles — some 1,600 nautical miles more than the A350-900 and nearly 2,000 nautical miles more than the A350-1000. This is more than enough for a 19-hour New York – Singapore nonstop, but not quite enough for, say, Sydney to New York.

Singapore expects to take delivery of its first A350-900 ULR in August of this year, and, while the airline hasn’t specified, we expect the aircraft to come with a special low-density configuration, similar to the A340-500s that once flew to New York and LA — then the longest nonstops in the world. While those old A340s had only 100 business class seats in the whole cabin, we expect these planes to come with a two-cabin configuration, likely with Singapore’s A350 business class seats. We can’t be sure until they’re bookable, but if you’re interested in booking what will be the world’s longest flight on points, we’d bet it won’t be cheap, even with Singapore’s great award availability.

Feature image courtesy of Airbus / P. Pigeyre

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