(The best part of this post is the map at the end)
On March 2, an Emirates Airbus A380 landed in Auckland nonstop from Dubai. Dubai to Auckland is 14,200 km (8823 Miles) and takes 17 hours and fifteen minutes to fly. It is the longest nonstop route currently operating. There has been a spate of new ultra long-haul routes launched recently. The previous record holder-Sydney to Dallas/Fort-Worth on Qantas-was launched in 2014. None of these can match the all-time longest route, until 2013, Singapore Airlines flew a nonstop between Singapore and Newark that covered 15,345 km and took nearly 19 hours.
How Far is Ultra Long?
There is no official definition of what makes a flight count as “ultra long-haul”. For my purposes I’ve arbitrarily decided to call any flight over 12,000 km great circle distance as an ultra long-haul flight. This is a pretty high benchmark. Sydney to San Francisco doesn’t make the cut nor does Dubai to Rio de Janerio.
Are Ultra Long Flights Sustainable?
Long distance flights require a lot of fuel to reach their destinations. All this fuel adds weight, this weight makes the airplane less fuel efficient, which requires more fuel. Fuel is essentially being used to carry around all the fuel that will be used later in the flight. For these reasons ultra long-haul flights are expensive to operate, and are very sensitive to changes in fuel prices and economic conditions. Many of the longest nonstop flights ever offered, are no longer being offered. These mostly include flights from Southeast Asia to the United States and Canada. Just a few years ago, one could fly from Singapore, Bangkok, and Manila nonstop to North America. Today you can’t.
Partially this is due to the aircraft that were used. These flights were operated with Airbus A340s which had a very long range, but used a lot of fuel. The Airbus A350-900ULR which is due to be delivered in 2018, would allow for Singapore Airlines to resume the longest ever scheduled flights.
One might question if the current crop of ultra long flights will be able to sustain themselves. The current low fuel prices and advances in aircraft will help, but there may not be many more economical ultra long-haul routes left to launch. Emirates was supposed to launch Dubai-Panama City earlier this year, but is delaying the start until the end of March.
Map of Past and Present Ultra Long Haul Routes
What would be really neat is if there was a map that showed ultra-long-haul routes over time. You can view just such a map here.
Some Interesting Things:
- The increase in flights from the Middle East three.
- The rise and fall of flights from Southeast Asia to North America
- Withdrawal of US Flights to the Middle East and India
- Concentration of ultra long-haul flights in a few cities: NYC, LA, Hong Kong, Dubai, Sydney
- Increase in ultra long-haul flights over time.
Data and Sources
My flight data comes largely from this Wikipedia article, plus any other long haul routes that I could think of. If there are any AvGeeks who would like to point out that I forgot that MIAT Mongolian Airlines offered flights between Ulan Batar and Quito for several months in 2002, or anything else I may have overlooked, please leave a comment or send a tweet.
Flight distance data is from Great Circle Mapper.
It was difficult to find start dates for some routes and some route dates are imprecise. Date data comes from news articles, press releases, forums such as Flyertalk, airlineroute.net and other sources.
Great circle paths were done using the geosphere package in R, with help from this tutorial by Nathan Yau.
 This was just for fun. The route will typically be operated by a more reasonable 777-200LR.
 United is launching SFO-SIN nonstop later this year.