Will Singapore Airlines finally get to fly trans-Pacific from Australia to the United States?

Singapore, a leading voice in advocating open skies, is hoping to conclude a more liberal aviation agreement with Australia, following a recent meeting of the two nations’ leaders, namely Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull.

Courtesy Singapore Airlines

That naturally revives Singapore Airlines’ dream of gaining rights to the lucrative trans-Pacific route from Australia to the United States.

While both Singapore and Australia have already agreed to allow carriers from both countries to operate unlimited flights between them, with Australian carrier Qantas benefitting from using Singapore Changi Airport as a regional hub to points beyond Singapore, it has been more than two decades since SIA expressed its interest in operating trans-Pacific flights from an Australian port.

A review in 2006 by the Australian authorities denied SIA’s application to fly the route that has since been opened to only American carriers besides home carriers. Despite SIA’s argument that the proposal would boost tourism in Australia, clearly Qantas was the thorn in SIA’s side as the authorities were apprehensive that the reciprocity would not be in the flying kangaroo’s favour.

Since then there has been no new overt push in that direction. So, will SIA finally get to fly trans-Pacific from either Sydney or Melbourne to the United States?

As Qantas grows from strength to strength as demonstrated by its record performance in the last couple of years, perhaps Australia could afford to be a little less protectionist.

While for now, it looks like the answer is still blowing in the wind, there is nevertheless a ray of hope emanating from the high-powered meeting.


Airports are going silent

Changi Airport T3/Photo by D Leo

Since Jan 1, Singapore Changi Airport no longer air final calls for passengers to board or page for missing passengers. Only annoucnements considered essential and warranted by an emergency will be allowed.

However, this is not the first time that Changi has considered the option. In fact, when the airport opened on July 1, 1981, it was considered but circumstances did not favour its implementation. Nor is Changi the first airport to go silent.

Airports that have gone silent include Helsinki Airport, Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg) and India’s Mumbai as well as Chennai Airport (domestic terminal).

Finavia Corp which operates the Helsinki Airport, which has since June 2015 discontinued flight information announcements and passenger paging made throughout the terminals, said: “The aim is to improve the comfotability of the waiting areas and to reduce the stress caused by traveling.” It believes that reducing the number of announcements will “minimize the background noise and sense of hurry at the terminal.”

The increased attention given to noise pollution particularly within confined areas is likely to influence more airports to adopt the “silent” mode. Busy airports during peak horus are often inundated with announcements on the heel of one another. It remains an open question as to whether people actually heed them. With improved signboards, checking travel information has become quite simple. While there continues to be some concern about late boarding of passengers who have lost track of time, the majority of travellers are quite on the ball for fear of offloading or losing their seats, and missing out on overhead compartment space. It’s a matter of getting used to the silent treatment.

What do Conde Nast best airports have in common?

Yet again – and again – no surprise who tops Conde Nast’s pick of the best airport, or even the top five which are located either in Asia or the Middle East What do these airports have in common?

According to Conde Nast, they stand out “with enough amenities and time-wasters that you might be a little late boarding that flight.” Such frills include indoor waterfalls and great restaurants. In other words, they have to be more than just a fucntional facility for air transportation – however efficient although one must assume efficiency is a key consideration.

Courtesy Changi Airport Group

Top in the ranks is Singapore Changi, followed by Seoul’s Incheon, Dubai International, Hong Kong International and Doha’s Hamad International.

Size matters. They are all huge airports. Changi has a handling capacity of 82 million passengers a year. Incheon is adding a second terminal which will double capacity to 100 million passengers annually, and Dubai Intl is aiming for 200 million passengers yearly. Hong Kong Intl handled more than 70 million passengers last year. Opened only in 2014, Hamad Intl is fast growing, recording a throughput of 37 million passengers last year, an increase of 20%.

They are hub airports. Dubai is now the world’s largest airport for international passenger throughput, edging out London Heathrow. Hong Kong Intl is positioning itself as a gateway to Asia in competition with Changi, with connections to some 50 destinations in China.

They are supported by strong home airlines with extensive connections: Qatar Airways (Hamad Intl), Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong Intl), Emirates Airlines (Dubai Intl), Korean Air and Asiana Airlines (Incheon) and Singapore Airlines (Changi).

They are modern with state-of-the-art infrastructure, and are constantly upgrading. Changi has recently added a fourth terminal where passengers can expect hassle-free processes from check-in to boarding without the need of any human contact.

The Asian airports offer fast rail connections to the city.

And, they are all competing to provide the most alluring “time-wasters”. Changi made news when it offered a swimming pool where passengers with time on their hand could relax and soak int he tropical sun. Now that’s also available at Hamad Intl, where you may even play a game of squash too. While Dubai is known to be one of the world’s biggest duty-free shopping centres, Hong Kong Intl is reputed for its great restaurants. Incheon is uniquely Korean with its “Cultural Street” that showcases local cuisine, dance performances, and arts and craft workshops. It also boasts an indoor skating rink and a spa. Hamad Intl too has an exhibit hall for that cultural touch.

Changi comes closest to being a destination in itself where it is said a passenger wouldn’t mind a flight delay. Besides the swimming pool, there are: an indoor waterfall, a butterfly garden, a swimming pool, vast play areas for families with children, and an array of restaurants and shops. And for passengers with at least a transit of six hours, you can hope on a free city tour.

But, of course, all these would not mean much if they are not supported by efficiency and friendly service.

What Qantas’ strategy shift means for Changi, SIA


And then there are three

From four to three (if you exclude SIA Cargo which will be absorbed as a division of the parent airline in 2018), Singapore Airlines (SIA) will now have three carriers in its stable as sister budget subsidiaries Scoot and Tigerair announced the completion of their merger come July 25, 2017. SilkAir, defined as a regional carrier, makes up the trio.

Both Scoot and Tigerair will henceforth operate under the Scoot brand. It seems logical, considering the poor reputation of Tigerair and the plans to expand Scoot into the long-haul. Unlike Tigerair, Scoot was launched as a medium-haul budget carrier.

The merger was long anticipated as the operations of the two carriers began to overlap with Scoot operating the short-haul as well. At the same time, loss-making Tigerair’s days were numbered as it struggled through a period of difficult times both financially and operationally, scarred with customer complaints of poor service.

While it certainly makes sense for the two carriers to eliminate intra-competition and pool their resources, it also opens the field for Scoot to expand its network. Already it is trailing behind Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia, whose chief Tony Fernandes is known to be testing new boundaries beyond the four-to-five hour limitation of the budget model. While AirAsia is not always guaranteed success, it has enjoyed headstart advantages.

Courtesy AirAsia

Scoot has announced a service to Honolulu by the end of the year, six months after AirAsia launches its service from Kuala Lumpur. Both carriers will operate via Osaka. It will be interesting to see how the competition plays out.

Scoot may be advantaged by its hub connections at Changi Airport while AirAsia will rely on its wide regional network to take advantage of Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s lower costs in a price-sensitive leisure market.

Scoot will benefit from the reputation of the SIA brand association, but somehow that has not rubbed off on the beleaguered Tigerair.

The competition is set to redefine the budget game as Scoot and AirAsia battle it out to be the region’s leading carrier not only for the short-haul but also beyond.

Asian airports dominate Skytrax best rankings

Courtesy Changi Airport Group

Not surprising that Singapore Changi clinched Skytrax’s 2017 Best Airport award for the fifth year running, commended for having the best leisure activities. As a hub airport, it is how best travellers are relieved of the stress of travel that will garner an airport favourable ratings. Changi is a favourite transit airport with its array of amenities, restaurants and shops.

What else can we infer from the survey said to be based on 13.82 million responses from 105 different nationalities, conducted from July 2016 to Feb 2017?

The top spots are held by familiar names of the last five to six years – Incheon International (3rd), Munich (4th), Hong Kong International (5th), Munich (4th), Zurich (8th) and London Heathrow (9th).

Incheon was ranked the best airport in 2012 before Changi took over in 2013, and until this year, it was a close second.

Special mention should be made of London Heathrow, which was the world’s busiest airport for international traffic until Dubai took the honours from it for two years now – Dubai did not make it to the list as being among the best.

It would appear that performance consistency is key, yet stagnation can lead to one losing the competitive edge. Changi has always prided itself as being innovative, constantly upgrading and expanding its facilities.

Making strides are Tokyo Haneda (2nd) and Doha’s Hamad International (6th). Tokyo Haneda was ranked 9th in 2013, 5th in 2015, 4th last year and 2nd this year. Hamad entered the top ten list at the bottom last year and made it up to 6th this year.

Besides Tokyo Haneda, there is a second Japanese airport in the list, namely Centrair Nagoya (7th). Tokyo Narita and Kansai Osaka were also ranked in previous years. It does say a lot about Japanese airport management.

It is no surprise that four Japanese airports are ranked among the top ten cleanest airports – Tokyo Haneda (1st), Centrair Nagoya (3rd), Tokyo Narita (5th) and Kansai Osaka (9th). Except for Zurich (8th) and Hamad (10th), this list is dominated by Asian airports, the others being Incheon (2nd), Taiwan’s Taoyuan (4th), Changi (6th) and Hong Kong (7th).

Similarly, the best airport staff service list is made up of nine Asian airports with the exeption of Vienna (10th): Taoyuan (1st), Incheon (2nd), Tokyo Haneda (3rd), Changi (4th), Centrair Nagoya (5th), Kansai Osaka (6th), Kuala Lupur International (7th), Tokyo Narita (8th) and Hong Kong (9th). Clearly service is an Asian strength.

One other Asian airport deserves some mention as the most improved airport – Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport. Will it make it to the list as one of the world’s best?

By bow you have noticed that no airport outside Asia, the Middle East and Europe are listed in this year’s Skytrax top ten/ The only outsider was Vancouver International which was ranked 9th in 2012, 8th in 2013 and 9th in 2014. Yet again, this does not come as a surprise.

Ultra-long flights: The competition heats up

Courtesy Qatar Airways

Courtesy Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways has clinched the honour of operating the longest non-stop commercial flight when it commenced operations from Doha to Auckland on February 6. The inaugural flight, using a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft, clocked 16 hours and 23 minutes for a distance of 14,535 km.

Qatar edged out rival Emirates Airlines which also operates to Auckland but from Dubai, and Air India which interestingly flew over a longer distance of 15,127 km from New Delhi to San Francisco across the Pacific (rather than the Atlantic) but advantaged by tailwinds clocked a shorter flying time.

Ultra-long flights are a boon to travellers, particularly corporate executives, who want to skip long transit stopovers or the hassle of connections. But there are others who prefer an intermediate stop to stretch their legs. They work excellently for end-to-end traffic where there is demand between these destinations. But airlines will find it does not make economic sense to connect two points for the sake of flying the distance. One may ask, in the case of Qatar’s new launch, is there adequate traffic between Doha and Auckland – the same question that would have been posed to Emirates?

Clearly Qatar is thinking network connections – not catering to just traffic from Auckland but to encourage travel beyond Doha to Africa, Europe and the Americas, in much the same way that Emirates has built a viable Dubai hub for connecting traffic challenging long-standing hubs such as Singapore Changi. Qantas, which has traditionally used Changi as the hop from Australia to Europe vv has contributed to the growth of Dubai to which it has shifted its hub operations. Now Qantas is rethinking its strategy to make Perth the hub when new technology enables the flying kangaroo to one-hop from London to Perth vv.

The competition has heated up in recent years with more airlines mounting such ultra-long flights. The strategy goes beyond tapping end-point, particularly home, markets, pointing to the importance of developing strong home and secondary hubs, and onward network connections. The squeeze on the competition may ironically persuade more airlines to intercross their networks to make ends meet.