Royal Brunei expands in China and Japan as narrowbody fleet is renewed

Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) is adding another two destinations in China and launching services to Japan as it puts a final batch of two A320neos into service.


Summary

  • Royal Brunei is taking two more A320neos over the next two months and all of its seven new A320neos will have been delivered this year, enabling Royal Brunei to expand its medium haul network and replace older-model A320ceos.
  • Royal Brunei has launched two new destinations in China and is adding at least two more Chinese destinations by the end of this year.
  • Royal Brunei also plans to launch services to Tokyo in Mar-2019.

Royal Brunei plans to take delivery of two A320neos by the end of Nov-2018, expanding its A320neo fleet to seven aircraft. RBA is receiving all seven aircraft, along with an additional 787-8, in a period of only six months. The eight new aircraft – a staggering figure for a small flag carrier – will reduce RBA’s averaged fleet age to only two years, giving it one of the world’s youngest fleets.

RBA currently operates five 787-8s, five A320neos and four A320ceos. Two of the A320ceos will be returned as the last two A320neos are delivered. The airline returned two A320ceos when the first five A320neos were delivered. This year the airline’s total fleet is growing from a total of 10 aircraft (four 787-8s and six A320ceos) to 14 aircraft (five 787-8s, seven A320neos and two A320ceos). The two A320ceos remaining in the fleet are only three years old, whereas the A320ceos being returned are all at least 10 years old.

The additional 787 is being used to decouple Dubai and London, resulting in a new daily nonstop flight to London Heathrow from late Oct-2018. RBA currently operates a daily service to London via Dubai and will continue to serve Dubai with four weekly turnaround flights. RBA’s other year-round long haul route is Melbourne, which is served daily with 787s. The airline also uses the 787 fleet to operate seasonal services to Jeddah.

RBA is using narrowbody expansion to launch several new destinations in North Asia. The airline launched two new destinations in China earlier this year – Hangzhou and Nanning. At a 22-Sep-2018 blessing ceremony for the A320neo fleet, RBA announced plans to launch services to Changsha and Haikou in China and Tokyo Narita in Japan – subject to regulatory approvals and the securing of slots.

Haikou will be served twice weekly from 30-Oct-2018 and Changsha twice weekly from 18-Dec-2018. Tokyo will be served with a not yet determined number of frequencies from 15-Mar-2019.

Royal Brunei earlier unveiled plans to serve Beijing, pending regulatory approvals and securing slots. It was originally aiming to add Beijing in Dec-2017, but had to postpone the launch late last year due to slot challenges. The airline has been hoping to secure slots at Beijing Capital Airport to support a Dec-2018 launch, but may have to postpone the launch further until 2019, when a new Beijing airport opens.

China is RBA’s main growth market as China is the fastest growing source market for Brunei’s emerging tourism industry. Shanghai was RBA’s only mainland Chinese destination until the launch of Nanning and Hangzhou in Apr-2018.

The new Tokyo service supports Brunei tourism’s aspirations to attract more Japanese visitors. A new Seoul service, which RBA launched as a charter in late 2016 and has been operating on a scheduled basis since Oct-2017, has succeeded at significantly increasing Korean visitor numbers (RBA added a third weekly frequency to Seoul in Aug-2018).

RBA is also resuming services to Taipei to attract more Taiwanese visitors. Earlier this year RBA announced plans to operate three weekly flights to Taipei from early Dec-2018.

The addition of Beijing, Changsha, Haikou, Hangzhou, Nanning, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo would expand RBA’s North Asia network to 10 destinations (only Shanghai and Hong Kong at the beginning of 2018).

RBA has historically focused more on Southeast Asia, where it continues to pursue some growth with frequency increases. Bali and Kota Kinabalu are particularly important growth markets, since a large proportion of RBA’s North Asian traffic combines Bali or Kota Kinabalu with Brunei as part of dual destination holidays.