From the archive: The Silk Highway – Australian Aviation


Singapore Airways’ regional provider SilkAir lately marked seven years of flying to Australia. This March 2017 story from the Australian Aviation archives charts the primary 5 years of SilkAir’s operations within the nation, which started with nonstop flights to Darwin in March 2012.

A provided picture of SilkAir pilot and cabin crew. (SilkAir)

When SilkAir launched flights to Darwin in 2012, comparisons with Jetstar on this a part of the world had been in some methods inevitable.

In spite of everything, the Australian travelling public had grow to be all too conscious of the variations between the legacy Qantas and its low-cost offshoot because the Orange Star got here to life in 2003, significantly by way of the passenger expertise.

Like Jetstar, SilkAir can also be a subsidiary of a bigger father or mother, on this case Singapore Airways (SIA).

Whereas being related to such a well-regarded and far patronised airline in Australia has its benefits, SilkAir supervisor for northern Australia Chen Qing Yi explains SilkAir within the early days struggled to shake off the general public impression that being a subsidiary of Singapore Airways meant it was a low-cost, or finances, operation.

“The work of the pioneers of the Darwin station was actually to exit and proper that model picture that individuals had of us,” Chen tells Australian Aviation in an interview on the telephone from Darwin in early February.

“That has labored effectively, now we have seen our passenger numbers improve by means of the years.

“That’s why it’s essential now we have a neighborhood staff proper right here, that we exit and get the gross sales and educate folks on our worth, merchandise and connectivity.”

In distinction to what Jetstar is to Qantas, SilkAir is a full-service provider that serves meals, has inflight leisure (streamed to non-public gadgets) and contains checked baggage with each enterprise and financial system class ticket, in addition to providing interline and through-check choices for travellers on multi-stop itineraries.

It’s described inside the airline group – which additionally contains the soon-to-be-merged low-cost carriers Tigerair Singapore and Scoot – because the “regional wing of Singapore Airways”.

And it has an essential position within the SIA group’s community, given its narrowbody plane are capable of serve secondary cities inside six and a half hours’ flight time from Singapore extra economically and with an applicable degree of capability than Singapore Airways’ all-widebody fleet.

Cairns and Darwin are two Australian examples of this community position, with SilkAir additionally flying to locations corresponding to Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos, in addition to the likes of Lombok and Medan in Indonesia.

There are additionally a rising variety of ports which can be served collectively by each Singapore Airways and SilkAir, corresponding to Kuala Lumpur, Kolkata and Yangon.

Aviation thinktank CAPA – Centre for Aviation describes a few of SilkAir’s locations as markets the place it’s troublesome to generate excessive masses on a year-round foundation however are essential to take care of given their position within the general SilkAir/Singapore Airways community.

“On most of its thinner routes a majority of passengers hook up with flights operated by SIA, the father or mother airline,” CAPA stated in a analysis notice dated January 22.

“Whereas SilkAir might not have excessive masses on a few of these routes, the connecting passengers they generate will be essential for the viability of SIA long-haul routes.

“Utilizing each the Singapore Airways and SilkAir manufacturers, whereas prevented a number of years in the past, is an evolutionary technique because it allows the group to match capability greatest with demand in a now-diversified market the place LCCs have proliferated.

“In some circumstances SilkAir has taken over underperforming SIA frequencies, and in different circumstances SilkAir has been used to develop the general market, with extra narrowbody frequencies supplementing widebody flights which have been maintained.”

Figures from CAPA present SilkAir has expanded its route community from 26 locations in 2006 to 52 presently.

Capability, measured by accessible seat kilometres (ASK), doubled between 2008 and 2016. The airline now flies to all 10 Affiliation of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member nations.

Regardless of this livid tempo of progress, SilkAir has reported an annual working revenue for 15 consecutive years relationship again to 2002, CAPA stated, though enlargement had impacted yields –  common fares per passenger  – and cargo components in latest occasions.

SilkAir posted an working revenue of S$30 million for the three months to December 31, down from S$33 million within the prior corresponding interval.

SilkAir celebrates the start of flights to Darwin in 2012.

SilkAir celebrates the beginning of flights to Darwin in 2012.

Northern Australia routes doing effectively

SilkAir celebrates 5 years of working to Australia in March, having began companies to Darwin on March 26 2012 with 4 flights every week.

The route went to 5 occasions weekly in 2014 and presently operates with a cut up schedule that includes both red-eye or afternoon departures from Darwin, relying on the day of the week.

In Might 2015, SilkAir added Cairns, with an preliminary three flights every week working through a Singapore-Darwin-Cairns-Singapore routing.

A measure of the route’s success was the transfer to de-link Cairns and Darwin in Might 2016, a yr after the inaugural service touched down in North Queensland.

Additional, SilkAir vp industrial Ryan Pua says Cairns will transfer to 4 flights every week from June, whereas a fifth weekly service might be added for some peak months.

“Since decoupling, each the Singapore-Cairns and Singapore-Darwin routes have carried out effectively, monitoring inner projections,” Pua tells Australian Aviation through electronic mail.

“Direct companies to Darwin and Cairns have offered passengers with higher comfort and shorter flight occasions, in addition to added capability to help elevated demand, as in comparison with the preliminary round routing.”

Cairns can also be a particular case within the SilkAir community, given it’s the solely vacation spot the place pilots and cabin crew in a single day after the six-hour, 45 minute flight from Singapore. Crews carry out a direct return on all different city-pairs, together with Darwin.

Chen says Darwin’s cut up schedule permits SilkAir to supply a greater diversity of connections past its Singapore hub, with London Heathrow the preferred vacation spot for outbound journey from Australia.

The MI804’s 0610 arrival in Singapore is timed for passengers travelling to simply about wherever inside South-East Asia, whereas MI802, which lands in Singapore at 1900, is ideally fitted to these travelling to Europe and South Asia.

“The explanation why now we have the cut up schedule, once more is as a result of we need to higher go well with the wants of the market,” Chen says.

“I also needs to point out as effectively the afternoon flight connects very effectively to our flights to India. We do have plenty of Indian passengers flying with us again to India and it’s extra for visiting associates and family or they’re flying their family over to go to them as a result of they’re working right here.”

Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) figures present SilkAir carried 38,000 inbound passengers to Australia for the 12 months to June 30 2016, up 63 per cent from the prior corresponding interval.

The 2015/16 common load issue was 74 per cent, in contrast with 68.three per cent for the prior yr.

The variety of outbound passengers jumped 75 per cent to 42,021, with load components 11.5 proportion factors larger at 82.1 per cent.

And in a sign of the airline’s enlargement on this market, SilkAir operated 317 flights in 2015/16, a 43 per cent improve from 222 flights the prior yr.

Silkair Boeing 737-800 9V-MGJ is welcomed at Cairns Airport in May 2015. (Cairns Airport/Youtube)

Silkair Boeing 737-800 9V-MGJ is welcomed at Cairns Airport in Might 2015. (Cairns Airport/Youtube)

SilkAir’s Cairns and Darwin companies, like Singapore Airways’ flights to Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, are supported by the alliance with Virgin Australia. When Scoot’s Gold Coast flight is included, the airline group serves 9 cities in Australia, the identical quantity as Air New Zealand.

The John Borghetti-led Virgin locations its VA airline code on all Singapore Airways and SilkAir flights out of Australia, in addition to all through the pair’s Asian and European companies.

There are additionally reciprocal frequent flyer advantages, together with lounge entry, precedence check-in and boarding, in addition to the power to switch factors (or miles) between the Singapore Airways/SilkAir KrisFlyer program and Virgin’s Velocity Frequent Flyer.

Chen, who has been based mostly in Darwin since March 2015, says the codeshares, in addition to entry to Australian home locations past Darwin and Cairns, have helped appeal to extra passengers onto SilkAir’s companies.

“We’re privileged to be alliance companions with Virgin Australia as a result of what they do is they supply us the attain into the home market that we in any other case wouldn’t have,” Chen says.

“This offers passengers. We’re speaking about connectivity and accessibility to worldwide flights.”

Virgin serves Alice Springs, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney nonstop from Darwin, the place it opened a premium passenger lounge in March 2015. It additionally presents nonstop flights from Cairns to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

A file image of a SilkAir Boeing 737-800 at Cairns. (Andrew Belczacki)

A file picture of a SilkAir Boeing 737-800 at Cairns. (Andrew Belczacki)

Cairns Airport chief government Norris Carter says SilkAir is a valued worldwide airline associate, given the variety of abroad travellers it brings into the town and surrounding area.

“The service attracts European, Chinese language, South-East Asian and Indian travellers, who make up virtually 60 per cent of all worldwide guests to Cairns,” Carter tells Australian Aviation through electronic mail.

“The entry for Indian guests has supported a 22 per cent improve in guests to Cairns from that nation and extra worldwide guests general to reach on worldwide flights.”

Along with Singapore, Cairns additionally has year-round worldwide flights to Bali, Osaka and Tokyo (Jetstar), Papua New Guinea (Air Niugini) and Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airways), in addition to Manila and Auckland (Philippine Airways). Air New Zealand, China Japanese, China Southern and Jin Air additionally provide seasonal flights to Cairns.

SilkAir airport signage. (Jordan Chong)

SilkAir on observe for all-Boeing fleet by 2020

In November 2012, SilkAir introduced it might transition from Airbus A319/320s to the Boeing 737, placing pen to paper for 23 present mannequin 737-800s and 31 737 MAX 8s.

The order was a high-profile “win” for Boeing – given SilkAir’s place as a premium full-service provider within the fast-growing Asian area – and one which left executives at Airbus bitterly disenchanted.

The primary SilkAir 737-800 arrived in February 2014. At present the airline has 31 plane – 17 737-800s, 11 A320s and three A319. That is up from 24 plane on the finish of 2014, the final full yr the airline operated an all-Airbus fleet.

The corporate lately transformed its final six 737-800 orders to the MAX, with the primary of the brand new technology Boeing narrowbody as a consequence of arrive within the third quarter of calendar 2017.

Whereas Pua says he’s unable to supply any data on particular routes the MAX might be used for, the SilkAir government indicated the plane’s improved economics and working efficiency may open the door to extra Australian companies.

“With the arrival of the MAX and the longer vary it presents, there may be undoubtedly potential for additional enlargement to extra cities inside Australia,” Pua explains.

SilkAir is phasing out its Airbus fleet. (Rob Finlayson)

SilkAir is phasing out its Airbus fleet. (Rob Finlayson)

SilkAir A319s have 128 seats (eight enterprise and 120 financial system), whereas the A320s have 12 enterprise and 138 financial system seats for a complete of 150.

As a consequence, SilkAir has not solely grown capability and expanded its community by means of new plane, the transition to Boeing gear has additionally meant extra seats on current routes, given the 737-800s have 162 seats – 12 in enterprise and 150 in financial system.

Pua says SilkAir is comfy with the usage of the bigger gauge 737‑800s and 737 MAX 8s instead of the smaller A319 and A320.

There may be additionally the prospect of latest cabin merchandise being unveiled for its soon-to-arrive MAX fleet.

“By way of capability, now we have factored within the alternative of the Airbus plane in our general useful resource and deployment planning,” Pua says.

“There might be some product and repair enhancements launched for the brand new MAX eight plane, of which the main points might be introduced sooner or later.”

Each Cairns and Darwin are served with the 737-800.

SilkAir is a full-service carrier with drinks, food and checked baggage included in each ticket. (Jordan Chong)

SilkAir is a full-service provider with drinks, meals and checked baggage included in every ticket. (Jordan Chong)

Nearer integration wanted to unlock extra advantages: CAPA

Pua says SilkAir’s focus is to offer feed to and from the SIA community through the airways’ Singapore hub, considering the long-term optimistic prospects of the cities, and calibrating provide with demand.

“We’ve been the pioneers to enterprise into various, secondary locations in Asia, a few of that are nonetheless comparatively untouched by mass tourism,” Pua says.

“Our position right here is to seed and develop these locations for the SIA group, tapping on the potential visitors supplied in new markets.”

Whereas the 2 carriers already work collectively promoting connecting itineraries, coordinating on joint pricing and optimising flight schedules for optimum community connectivity, CAPA argued there was scope to do extra.

“SIA and SilkAir have pursued nearer integration over the previous a number of years, which has benefited each airways,” CAPA stated.

“Nonetheless, there may be nonetheless an excessive amount of separation – significantly given the variety of routes the 2 airways now share.

“Additional integration may very well be pursued in 2017, together with merging of the SIA and SilkAir gross sales groups. Having separate industrial groups with separate gross sales targets not is smart, given how the networks are actually aligned.

“The present construction means SilkAir gross sales workplaces abroad are actually placing an excessive amount of emphasis on promoting SilkAir flights to Singapore and SilkAir connections, fairly than connections on the SIA community.”

And whereas Singapore Airways is a member of the Star Alliance, SilkAir just isn’t, a state of affairs which has at occasions brought about confusion for passengers transiting by means of Changi Airport to or from a Star Alliance flight (for instance arriving on a Lufthansa service from Frankfurt and connecting onto a SilkAir-operated service to Phuket) concerning frequent flyer advantages corresponding to lounge entry.

In contrast, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and its regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon are each members of oneworld, guaranteeing a constant passenger expertise for oneworld airline frequent flyer members.

Pua declined to reply straight when requested why SilkAir was not a member of Star Alliance. As an alternative, he would solely say passengers travelling on the regional provider may earn factors on Singapore Airways’ KrisFlyer frequent flyer program.

The formal handover of SilkAir's first 737-800 in Seattle in 2014. (Boeing)

The formal handover of SilkAir’s first 737-800 in Seattle in 2014. (Boeing)

This story first appeared within the March 2017 version of Australian Aviation. To learn extra tales like this, grow to be a member right here.

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