SilkAir set to improve its premium product for the Cairns and Darwin markets

Singapore Airlines full service subsidiary SilkAir plans to upgrade Australia flights to the new 737 MAX 8 aircraft by the end of 2017, resulting in an improved premium product for the Cairns and Darwin markets. SilkAir will be the first airline in Australia to operate the 737 MAX 8, which was certified in Mar-2017.

SilkAir took delivery of its first of 737 MAX 8s in late Sep-2017 and placed the aircraft into service on 6-Oct-2017. A second aircraft is slated to be delivered by the end of Oct-2017.

SilkAir is operating the 737 MAX 8 on four short haul routes – Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Penang. Phnom Penh and Phuket – until 30-Oct-2017, when it starts operating its first two aircraft on medium haul routes to Bangalore, Hiroshima, Hyderabad and Kathmandu. Hiroshima is a new destination for SilkAir and will be served entirely with 737 MAX 8s from the route’s launch. Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kathmandu are now served with 737-800s and will be served with a mix of 737-800s and 737 MAX 8s.

SilkAir also cited Cairns and Darwin among its initial batch of 737 MAX 8 routes in unveiling the new aircraft at a 4-Oct-2017 event in Singapore. SilkAir executives told Blue Swan the airline’s third 737 MAX, which is slated to be delivered in Nov-2017, will be used to replace 737-800s on the Singapore to Cairns and Darwin routes.

SilkAir currently operates four weekly flights to Cairns and four weekly flights to Darwin. As Blue Swan previously reported, a fifth weekly flight to Cairns will be added in Nov-2017 and operate year-round. SilkAir will also add a fifth weekly flight to Darwin in Nov-2017 and offer six weekly frequencies to Darwin this summer from mid-December to early February.

SilkAir launched services to Darwin in 2012. SilkAir added Cairns in 2015 but for the first year it coupled Darwin and Cairns on an unpopular circular routing. The two destinations were decoupled in late May-2016, initially resulting in three nonstop dedicated flights for Cairns and five weekly nonstop flights for Darwin. This summer SilkAir will operate a record 11 weekly flights to Australia during peak periods, up from nine during peak periods last summer.

SilkAir’s new 737 MAX 8s have six fewer seats than its 737-800s with the extra space being used to improve the business class product. SilkAir’s MAX 8 has 12 business class seats with 49in pitch and a recline of 12in. The 737-800 also has 12 business class seats but a 39in pitch and a recline of only 8in.

For the first time in its history SilkAir is also offering freshly brewed coffee to business class passengers on the MAX 8 as it has installed an illy caffe gourmet coffee machine. SilkAir upgraded business class meals last year.

Cairns is SilkAir’s longest current route, making it an ideal flight for the longer range 737 MAX 8…most flights from Singapore to Cairns operate overnight, making the improved room in business class appealing.

SilkAir’s MAX 8 has 144 economy seats compared to 150 seats on the 737-800. The pitch remains a relatively tight 30in. However, SilkAir has added a charging port for all seats on the MAX compared to having a shared port on the 737-800. Seatback tablet and phone holders have also been added, which comes in handy as SilkAir offers streaming and does not have seatback IFE monitors.

Cairns is SilkAir’s longest current route, making it an ideal flight for the longer range 737 MAX 8. While SilkAir has been able to sell all 162 seats on its 737-800 flights to Cairns, it has not been able to carry cargo and, in some cases, has not been able to accommodate all checked bags. With the 737 MAX 8, SilkAir will be able to easily accommodate all bags as well as some cargo. Most flights from Singapore to Cairns operate overnight, making the improved room in business class appealing.

Singapore-Darwin is two hours shorter than Singapore-Cairns but is also among SilkAir’s longer routes with some frequencies operating overnight. Hiroshima, which has a similar flight time as Cairns, will also be served overnight from Singapore. Several of SilkAir’s flights from South Asia also operate overnight – and are relatively long flights – making them obvious candidates for the 737 MAX 8.

The improved range of the 737 MAX also gives SilkAir the flexibility to launch new routes in Australia. For example, the aircraft has the range to reach Adelaide and Townsville from Singapore.