The longest flight in commercial aviation around the world is currently the one that connects New York to Singapore, with a total of approximately 18 hours and operated by Singapore Airlines. If one looks at the route the plane takes, one might wonder why the plane goes almost to the north pole instead of following a straight line to Singapore. The answer is somewhat counter-intuitive: it is shorter to fly closer to the pole than following a seemingly straight line.
The reason is that we often look at a map in two dimensions (i.e flat), while the globe is round, which changes the notion of distances. This type of curved travel happens a lot whenever it is necessary to fly over the Pacific Ocean. Commercial flights do not fly over the Pacific and instead take a curved route up north.
It would be normal to think that this is only for safety reasons, so that there is a place to land in case of an emergency. The main reason is to save time and, consequently, resources.
When an airplane flies from the United States to Asia it often takes a curved route and it covers fewer kilometers because what looks like a straight line on a two dimensional map, in reality is not. The Earth’s surface is round and if on tries to draw a straight line between New York and Singapore on a globe one can see that it will be very different from what one sees on a map. Only at the equator do a line drawn on a ma and on a globe coincide.
The plane that Singapore Airlines uses for these long distance flights is the A350-900 ULR (ultra-long-range), which belongs to Airbus’ family of twin-engine, long-range, twin-engine aircraft. The aircraft are designed to replace Boeing’s 777 series and use 20% to 30% less fuel than the 777.
Singapore Airlines had launched the same nonstop route between Changi, Singapore, and Newark, New Jersey, in 2004, but in 2013 the airline was forced to cancel it. The A340-500 it was using at the time used too much fuel, so the route became too expensive.
Several operators are already using the new A350-900s on their long-haul routes. They have higher ceilings, larger windows and lighting designed to reduce jet lag-good news for business travelers. Qantas Airlines is now considering opening a 20-hour flight between London and Sydney.
The long-range version that Singapore Airlines has bought from Airbus has the longest capacity of any aircraft flying today, thanks in part to a slightly modified fuel system. It can fly 20 hours without refueling. Most aviation experts say this is the future of long-haul travel, both for business and pleasure.