SIA to retime Singapore-Canberra-Wellington improving connection times for travellers

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is moving up by one hour its Singapore-Canberra-Wellington flight, resulting in improved connections from several points in Asia. The airline is satisfied with the initial load factor on the route, which has particularly been strong on the Singapore-Canberra sector, but believes the retiming will improve the route’s performance.

SIA launched the Singapore Canberra-Wellington-Canberra-Singapore “Capital Express” route on 20-Sep-2016 using 266-seat 777-200s. It has since operated the route with three to four weekly flights departing Singapore at 11pm and arriving back in Singapore at 0540am. The Singapore takeoff and landing times are fixed year-round while the takeoff and landing times in Canberra and Wellington vary slightly depending on the time of year (due to daylight savings time).

SIA recently announced it will move back by one hour the departure from Singapore starting 28-Oct-2017, which marks the start of the southern summer timetable. The new Singapore-Canberra schedule features an 1155pm departure from Singapore.

On the return flight, the flight will be moved up by slightly an hour. The new schedule includes a 0435am return to Singapore.

With the new schedule SIA reduces the time the aircraft sits in the ground in Wellington by two hours. It currently sits in Wellington for five hours (from 16:15 to 21:20 during daylight savings time in New Zealand) but from the end of October will sit for only three hours (from 17:10 to 20:15 during daylight savings time). The shorter idle time improves efficiency and aircraft utilisation, resulting in a reduced cost for the operation – which should improve the route’s profitability.

SIA stated the new 1155pm departure from Singapore will also result in improved connection times from Bali, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket and Shanghai to Canberra and Wellington.

An analysis of the SIA schedule shows a reduction in Singapore transit times for seven of the eight markets cited by SIA with Hong Kong having a longer transit time under the new schedule. In some cases, the improvement is as little as 5min (from Kuala Lumpur). The most significant improvement is five hours (from Hanoi). SIA/SilkAir only operate two daily flights from Hanoi, one of which arrives in Singapore too late to catch the current Canberra flight but makes the retimed Canberra flight.

Changes in Singapore transit times in Asia to Canberra markets:

Market Current transit time New transit time
Bali-Canberra 2hr10min 1hr15min
Hanoi-Canberra 5hr55min 55min
Ho Chi Minh-Canberra 4hr05min 1hr15min
Hong Kong-Canberra 3hr25min 1hr15min
Kuala Lumpur-Canberra 1hr15min 1hr10min
Manila-Canberra 1hr35min 40min
Phuket-Canberra 2hr20min 1hr0min
Shanghai-Canberra 1hr35min 40min


However, the early return to Singapore generally results in longer transit times in Singapore when heading from Canberra (or Wellington) to Asia. In the eight markets mentioned in the SIA press release, only Kuala Lumpur has a shorter transit time on the outbound sector (and only by five minutes).

Changes in Singapore transit times in Canberra to Asia markets:

Market Current transit time New transit time
Canberra-Bali 1hr20min 2hr25min
Canberra-Hanoi 3hr40min 4hr45min
Canberra-Ho Chi Minh 4hr05min 5hr10min
Canberra-Hong Kong 1hr50min 2hr55min
Canberra-Kuala Lumpur 1hr30min 1hr25min
Canberra-Manila 3hr50min 4hr55min
Canberra-Phuket 1hr20min 2hr25min
Canberra-Shanghai 2hr25min 3hr30min


Ideally SIA would have moved back the departure time from Singapore but not changed the timing of the return flight. The need to reduce the ground time in Wellington – and get the aircraft back to Singapore earlier, perhaps freeing it up for use on another route – likely drove the decision for the earlier departure from Wellington.

As Blue Swan has previously analysed, SIA has been pleased with the initial performance of the Singapore-Canberra-Wellington route. The Singapore-Canberra leg has particularly performed well, with average load factors above 80% while the average load factor on the Wellington-Canberra sector has been less than 65%.

See related report: Nonstop Wellington-Singapore could prove viable despite low take-up on Singapore Airlines’ one-stop product

For most of June and July SIA has only been operating three weekly Canberra-Wellington flights while maintaining four weekly Canberra-Singapore flights. This is less than ideal as it results in the aircraft sitting in Canberra for 15 hours one day each week but is preferable than operating the Canberra-Wellington sector with load factors of less than 50% (which has been typical during off peak days).

The decision to re-time all four sectors of the Singapore-Canberra-Wellington-Canberra-Singapore route was made following a review assessing the first six months of the operation. SIA remains committed to maintaining the Capital Express route, and is again offering four weekly frequencies on all sectors this winter, but concluded a change in timing was necessary to improve the efficiency of the service. As the connection times generally only improve in one direction the main driver is the shorter ground time in Wellington.

SIA needs to improve the financial performance of the route as the 777-200 fleet it now uses for the Capital Express service will be retired over the next couple of years. SIA is acquiring new generation A350-900s and 787-10s to replace its 777-200s as well as A330-300s.

Deploying the A350-900 or 787-10 to Canberra and Wellington will improve SIA’s product on the Capital Express route while roughly maintaining the same amount of capacity. However, as the A350 and 787 are newer aircraft, SIA will need a higher return of investment and cannot afford long ground times. The retiming of the service and reduced ground time at Wellington could be an attempt to improve the route’s performance and efficiency ahead of the switch to new generation aircraft.