Royal Brunei relooks at Australia expansion as last batch of A320neos arrive

Royal Brunei Airlines is relooking at Australia expansion as it decides on a final batch of routes for its new fleet of A320neos. The airline’s CEO Karam Chand said on the sidelines of the recent Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) Assembly of Presidents that Brisbane, Darwin, Gold Coast and Perth are being currently evaluated as potential new markets.


Summary:

  • Royal Brunei Airlines is studying Brisbane, Darwin, Gold Cast and Perth as potential new destinations using its new Airbus A320neo fleet;
  • Melbourne has been Royal Brunei’s only Australian destination since 2011 but as recent as a decade ago it had served four Australian cities;
  • A second destination in Australia as well as a first in India could be part of a final phase of narrowbody network growth, which has so far focused on North Asia.

The Asian carrier had suspended services to Brisbane and Perth in 2011 as part of an earlier restructuring. Darwin and Sydney were dropped in 2008. Royal Brunei has never served Gold Coast, which is generally considered as an alternative airport to Brisbane.

Melbourne has been Royal Brunei’s only destination in Australia since 2011. Sydney is not currently under consideration as Royal Brunei is not planning to launch any new widebody destinations. Mr Chand explained the A320neo does not have the range to operate from Sydney to Bandar Seri Begawan year-round.

Royal Brunei temporarily used the A320neo on two Bandar-Seri Begawan-Melbourne flights in Aug-2018, filling in for a 787-8 that was grounded due to Rolls Royce engine issues. However, Mr Chand says the A320neo would not be able to operate from Melbourne to Bandar Seri Begawan when there are strong headwinds. (Royal Brunei normally serves Melbourne with 787s but used a wet leased A340 from 16-Sep-2018 to 27-Oct-2018 to fill in for a grounded 787.)

CHART – Royal Brunei is seeing demand grow at its fastest rate since 2015 with passenger numbers up +5.7% year-on-year during the first seven months of 2018Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and AAPA 

The Bandar Seri Begawan-Sydney route would also have limitations with the A320neo during certain times of the year. Royal Brunei is therefore considering other destinations in Australia which would be within range of the A320neo on a year-round basis without the possibility of any payload limitations.

Sydney would be feasible with A321neoLRs, which Royal Brunei has been evaluating but only for the long term. After taking delivery of eight aircraft in 2018 (seven A321neos and one 787-8), Mr Chand said the airline is not planning any more deliveries until at least 2022. The additional 787-8 has been used to launch nonstop services to London on 28-Oct-2018.

Royal Brunei previously served the UK via Dubai. The airline is also pursuing significant expansion of its narrowbody network this year as its narrowbody fleet expands from six aircraft (six A320ceos) to nine aircraft (two A320ceos and seven A320neos). Royal Brunei has already taken five of the seven A320neos and plans to take delivery of a final two A320neos in Nov-2018.

CHART – Royal Brunei Airlines’ fleet renewal programme means it now operates one of he youngest fleets among the national carriers of AsiaSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

The 50% expansion of its narrowbody fleet will enable Royal Brunei to launch several new routes. The airline added Hangzhou and Nanning earlier this year and is launching Haikou on 30-Oct-2018 followed by Changsha on 18-Dec-2018. Royal Brunei is planning to add two more destinations in China in 2019 – Chengdu and Beijing (launch dates have not yet been set but Beijing can only begin after the new Beijing airport opens in 4Q2019).

Royal Brunei has also set a Mar-2019 start date for Tokyo Narita and is looking at launching one destination in India along with the potential second destination in Australia. In India, Mr Chand said Bangalore, Delhi, and Mumbai are under consideration.

The carrier will have to rely heavily on sixth freedom transit traffic for any new route to India or Australia. Around 90% of its Melbourne traffic now transits beyond Bandar Seri Begawan. Royal Brunei is generally focusing on growth markets in Asia with big inbound tourism potential but recognises it could use one or two new destinations that consist predominately of sixth freedom traffic to help support its overall network.