Tuesday, 10 November 2020

18 hours non-stop and counting..........the power behind ultra-long-range flights

We want to get where we’re going as quickly and as easily as possible. Travellers prefer non-stop flights to journeys with a break because they avoid the stresses associated with connecting flights and additional security procedures. Now more than ever, the option to fly non-stop, no matter how far away the final destination may be, is a valuable one, as it provides peace of mind and the convenience needed during times of uncertainty.

Flights connecting some of the farthest cities in the world are referred to as ultra-long-range flights. These flights are defined as being 16 hours or more.

There were almost 3,000 scheduled flights that fall under the ultra-long-range category last year, with the main connections between the following regions:

So how does one of the worlds leading aero-engine makers serve this small but high-value market? The airlines need an engine that operates efficiently on some of the longest flights in the world, but which also provides unrivalled economics across the rest of their network. The answer is the Airbus A350 XWB, powered by the most efficient large aero engine in service, the Trent XWB.

A short history of long-range flight

Rolls-Royce is synonymous with innovation that has created new possibilities. This is particularly evident from the way in which we have revolutionised how people connect throughout our history, continuing to do so today, and into the future. With people valuing their time more and more, it has become more important than ever to be able to connect with people and places as efficiently as possible. Rolls-Royce is perfectly placed to continue to support these needs. Thanks to our capabilities, expertise and technologies, we continue to lead the way in powering ultra-long-range travel efficiently and reliably.

The Trent XWB, which is the sixth generation of the Trent family, powers the longest commercial flight in the world. But we have a long history in powering ultra-long-range, record-breaking flights. Over the past century daring aviators have pushed the boundaries of engineering to win prizes, conquer new frontiers, and make the world smaller for passengers around the world.


1914 – The Rolls-Royce Eagle engine powered the first non-stop transatlantic flight, as well as the first flight from England to Australia (1919) – both in the Vickers Vimy aircraft.

1989 - The RB211-524 powered the first non-stop flight from London to Australia. The Qantas-operated Boeing 747-400 broke the record on August 17 1989, flying 9,188 nautical miles, something that at the time was thought of being impossible.

2004 – Singapore Airlines flew the longest non-stop commercial flight in the world using the Trent 500-powered Airbus A340-500. The flight operated between Singapore and Newark (8285nm).

2014 – The Trent 900-powered Airbus A380, took the crown for the longest commercial flight. Operated by Qantas, the world’s largest passenger aircraft began flying the world’s longest route at the time, from Sydney to Dallas/Fort Worth, with a total distance of 7,454nm.

2018 – The current ultra-long-range record is powered by our Trent XWB - the world’s most efficient large aero engine in service today. Since October 2018, Singapore Airlines has flown the Airbus A350 XWB from Singapore to Newark, USA.

In it for the long haul

The average duration of an A350 XWB flight is typically six hours, yet the engines that power these flights are the same as those which power ultra-long-range routes of up to 19 hours. That’s part of the appeal says Sam Azad, Marketing Manager - Trent XWB.

“Operators are looking for versatility in their fleets, particularly now when schedules can change at short notice. Airlines don’t just need aircraft and engines that can fly ultra-long-range efficiently; they also need the same aircraft to complete shorter flights economically. This is where the A350 and Trent XWB come into their own; the aircraft is used for the longest commercial flight in the world, as well as shorter flights that take as little as 45 minutes,” says Azad.

So how do they enable the engines to handle these trips around the globe?

New technology plays a big part. For example, high-pressure turbine blades operate in an environment where temperatures can exceed 1,700 degrees Celsius. This level of heat is above their melting point, so each blade has tiny air holes drilled in it where “cooling air” of around 700 degrees Celsius is blown to cover the blade’s surface. This increases the durability of RR engines. In addition to investing in new technologies, they also test the engines rigorously and extensively. They put them through gruelling endurance marathons, making sure they can handle powering intensive, ultra-long-range routes, day after day. The Trent XWB recently undertook endurance tests in Thailand to monitor how its components behave. We simulated the equivalent of more than 1,000 ultra-long-range flights, back-to-back. The results demonstrated that the engine is capable of breaking our own current record and setting the new one for the longest commercial flight in the future

Fuel efficiency, reliability and durability are key factors in making ultra-long-range flights economically viable for airlines. The Trent XWB is the most efficient aero engine in service, reducing airlines’ emissions and fuel costs. After five years in service, it has proven reliability.  The first engines travelled the equivalent of 350 times around the world before their first overhaul, where engines are taken apart, and parts that endure a high amount of load or stress are replaced. For an engine that regularly flies through some of the world’s harshest conditions, it’s unprecedented that the Trent XWB has demonstrated such durability and reliability.

ETOPs: the secret to powering ultra-long-range flights

ETOPS, or Extended Operations ensures that a long-haul aircraft always stays within a certain flight time of an airport so that the pilot can divert to the nearest airport safely, should any problems arise. A long ETOPS certificate is an indicator for reliability and safety. In addition to this, the longer the ETOPs, the more quickly you can reach your destination on a non-stop flight. This is particularly important for ultra-long-range flights, when the most direct route is always preferable.

The Trent XWB was certified with an unprecedented seven-hour (420 mins) ETOPS certification. While it was certified in 2014, it was another four years before it could demonstrate the benefits when Singapore Airlines started flying regularly between Singapore and Newark once again.

The future of ultra-long-haul

After a seven-month hiatus, the world’s longest commercial flight - connecting New York and Singapore - has returned to the skies once again from the 9 November. The Trent XWB-powered Airbus A350 XWB has been the backbone of recovery for many airlines and is playing a crucial role in restarting global aviation. Before the pandemic, the A350-1000 and Trent XWB-97 were selected for a new record-breaker.  Qantas selected the Airbus A350-1000, powered by the Trent XWB-97 to power its Project Sunrise ultra-long-haul flights from the East Coast of Australia to London and New York. While plans are on pause because of the impact of the pandemic on the aviation industry, our experience, technology and track record means we are ready to break even more ultra-long-haul records in the future. 


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