The Evolution Of The Singapore Airlines Fleet

From the Boeing 737 to the Airbus A380, Singapore Airlines has operated virtually every major aircraft type in the jet age. The airline has slowly increased its reach and capacity since its founding in 1972, which means adding new planes every few years. Here’s the evolution of Singapore Airlines’ fleet.

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Singapore Airlines has a long and diverse fleet history and one that is changing now too. Photo: Andrew Curran | Simple Flying

All fleet data in this article is courtesy of Planespotters.net.

Early days

Singapore Airlines (SIA) began operations in early 1972 using several aircraft from Malaysia Airlines (of which it was a part before). The carrier flew seven Boeing 707s and five 737-100s during its first year of flying but had its eye on an expansion.

Singapore Airlines’ first direct delivery came in 1973 when it took its first Boeing 747-200. The Queen of the Skies played an important role in expanding the Southeast Asian carrier’s range and opening up new destinations. Cities like Rome, Paris, London, Los Angeles, and Sydney were all added with the entry of the 747.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 747
The 747 made Singapore Airlines a major global airline, growing its reach into the US and Europe. Photo: Getty Images

SIA also added the McDonnell Douglas DC-10s to its fleet for long-haul operations, but these three-engined planes only remained for five years before retirement. Meanwhile, the airline was also looking to revamp its short-haul offerings from the 737-100. For this mission, Singapore added the 727 advanced, offering more capacity and better efficiency.

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Growing

After focusing mainly on Boeing for its aircraft needs in the first few years, Singapore Airlines inked its first deal with Airbus in 1979. This was an order for eight A300B4s, kicking off a long history with the European giant. While the A300 only flew for a few years, the A310 became the airline’s first true Airbus success.

The A310 served on high-demand Asian routes, with both the -200 and -300 variants serving in the fleet. It was at this time that Singapore Airlines also converted to an all-widebody fleet, retiring the 727s in 1985 and instead focusing on the A310 for its short- and medium-haul routes as well.

Singapore Airlines A310-300
The A310 remained a part of the fleet until the early 2000s, before passing on to the A330 and later the 787. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

We would also be remiss not to mention the joint Singapore Airlines-British Airways Concorde. While this plane carried the registration G-BOAD only, it was painted with the SIA livery and flew the London to Singapore route via Bahrain. The aircraft only operated from 1977 to 1980, offering one of the few supersonic services beyond the Atlantic.

All about the 747

While SIA continued to grow its fleet, the standout was undoubtedly the Boeing 747 family. The airline flew 22 747-200s and 14 747-300s in total, letting these aircraft operate all of its transpacific routes and some to Europe too. However, Singapore Airlines was not done with the type, and took on a massive 50 747-400s over the years.

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The 747s have lived on far beyond their passenger-carrying days and now serve as freighters for SIA. Photo: Getty Images

The 747-400 were undoubtedly the airline’s flagship from the first delivery in 1989 to final one in 2001. The 747’s range also allowed flights to the west coast of the USA (with a stop), a major milestone for the airline and a stepping stone for its ultra-long-haul ambitions. In total, the airline flew a massive 86 747s, with seven still in service, making the aircraft the most popular type in the fleet. For now.

Two engines

However, after over two decades of 747 use, Singapore Airlines turned its attention towards another upcoming aircraft. The Boeing 777 offered the ability to fly long-haul routes will slightly lesser capacity but much higher efficiency thanks to the twin-engine design and design changes.

Singapore Airlines quickly became a major operator of the 777 family, purchasing the -200 and -300 variants early on. These aircraft progressively began replacing the 747 on many flagship routes, including eventually, services to the west coast of the US. While they still did not have enough range to fly nonstop, they could fly to Europe and Australasia more efficiently.

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The Boeing 777 will become the most used aircraft type in Singapore’s fleet after the delivery of the first 777X. Photo: Singapore Airlines

The 777 only became more prominent with the delivery of the 777-300ER in 2006. This continuing popularity and growing capacity meant the end of the passenger 747 era was imminent. In 2012, Singapore Airlines retired its last passenger, 747-400, and switched to only operating freighters. From now on, the 777 was the airline’s flagship. But not for long.

Important

While Singapore has no domestic market to serve, its short-haul international routes are crucial to its presence. This fleet has seen a lot of renewal too. After the retirements of the A310s in the early 2000s, this market was served by the Airbus A330. The A330 was a derivative of the earlier jet and allowed for seamless integration into the fleet in 2009. With the focus on capacity rather than range, SIA only flew the larger -300 variant.

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Singapore Airlines recently said farewell to its last A330 due to the pandemic. Photo: Airbus

Another significant change came in the form of the 787-10. These high-capacity Dreamliners were long a requirement for SIA as it looked to modernize its regional aircraft operations. As the A330 retires a decade later, the 787 will become critical to the short- and medium-haul network in the coming decade.

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Singapore Airlines is the biggest 787-10 operator and will likely remain so for a long time. Photo: Boeing

Big and far

The true flagship of the Singapore Airlines fleet is the Airbus A380. SIA was the launch operator of the superjumbo in 2007 and is currently the second-largest operator of the aircraft. The A380’s range and capacity made it optimal for deployment to popular long-haul destinations such as London Heathrow, Sydney, Frankfurt, Auckland, and even shorter routes like Hong Kong and Beijing.

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Singapore’s A380s are known as one of the most luxurious in the world and have elevated its status as a premium airline. Photo: Singapore Airlines

The aircraft also allowed for impressive innovations like the first class ‘Suites’ product and new business class seats. Prior to the pandemic, the airline had plans to modernize its entire A380 fleet with the newest cabins and ensure they fly for years to come. While things have changed now, the superjumbo is poised to return in the next few years.

Key

The first aircraft to revolutionize Singapore Airlines’ fleet in the 2010s is undoubtedly the Airbus A350. While the standard A350-900 can be found on regional, long-haul, and premium routes, there is one special variant. The A350-900ULR is a custom-built widebody for SIA to fly from Singapore to New York, the world’s longest route.

The A350-900ULR is a gamechanger for Singapore Airlines’ future operations. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

While the SIN-NYC flight has been tried with the A340-500 briefly, the route was too expensive to maintain. However, the newer A350ULR offers a host of efficiency improvements and attempts to make the route profitable. With this plane, Singapore Airlines has finally achieved its goal of connecting all major hubs from its home possible.

With 57 aircraft already in the fleet and more on the way, Singapore Airlines is the largest A350 operator globally. This plane has helped the airline’s efficiency while ensuring customer experience and capacity remain in place.

While Singapore Airlines already has a diverse fleet, expect to see many new types join the airline as they become available.

What do you think about Singapore Airlines’ fleet evolution? Which plane is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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