The shortest distance between two points on the earth is a straight line, but it it may not be the fastest. When Singapore Airlines relaunched its Singapore-New York flights last week, the route retook the title of world’s longest flight by distance. With a block time of 18 hours 45 minutes SQ21 from New York to Singapore is also the longest scheduled flight in the world. But strong high altitude winds have shortened flight times substantially this week for both flight legs, even while the flights are flying farther than the Great circle route. We’ve run the numbers to see just how much winds are helping reduce flights times and Singapore Airlines’ fuel bills.
The first three Singapore to New York flights have all taken what is called the Nopac or North Pacific routing. At this time of year, the Nopac routing allows SQ22 to take advantage of winds off the coast of Japan as well as over Alaska and Canada. SQ22 is scheduled at 18 hours 25 minutes, but over the first three flights, flight time has averaged just 17 hours 18 minutes.
Polar versus transatlantic flight
The first return flight to Singapore followed a polar route, departing north from New York and tracking to about 87° North along the way. SQ21 made it back to Singapore in 17 hours 34 minutes, near 1 hour 15 minutes quicker than the scheduled time. While the second SQ22 also followed the Nopac routing, 14 October’s SQ21 took advantage of a strong jet stream across the Atlantic Ocean to fly eastward from New York to Singapore, effectively making the round trip and around the world flight as well. This transatlantic routing shortened the flight time by 3 minutes, but added 945 km to the flight. Average flight time for SQ so far has been 17 hours 32 minutes.
How far are they actually flying?
The Great circle distance or the shortest route between Singapore and New York (EWR) is 15,345 km (9,534 mi, 8286 NM). The route runs over the north pole. By flying eastward on the Nopac routing, SQ22 has averaged 16,587 km (10,306 mi, 8956 NM) in its first three flights.
Averaging the first two SQ21 flights yields a distance of 16,312 km (10,136 mi, 8808 NM).
Visually, the deviations from the Great circle routing to take advantage of favorable winds are apparent.
For now Singapore Airlines’ won’t offer the promised nearly 19 hour travel time from New York to Singapore, but as the seasons change, passengers will find themselves on the world’s longest flight in more ways than one.