Singapore Airlines bullish on US market following rapid expansion of nonstop flights

Singapore Airlines (SIA) has added 20 weekly nonstop flights to the US over the last two months and will add another four weekly frequencies in 2H2019 as Seattle becomes its fourth nonstop US destination. SIA is now generating 4,991 weekly nonstop seats to the US compared to only 1,771 seats at the beginning of Oct-2018 and will have 6,003 weekly seats after Seattle is launched.


Summary:

  • Singapore Airlines (SIA) has added 20 weekly nonstop flights to the US (Los Angeles, Newark and San Francisco) and will add another four in 2019 as Seattle is launched;
  • The Asian carrier is confident the new flights will do well despite a huge spike in US capacity, particularly in premium economy;
  • The new nonstop flights improve SIA’s position in the Singapore-US market and also open up a myriad of one-stop connections in the broader Asia-US market.

SIA’s SVP sales and marketing Campbell Wilson said in a CAPA TV interview last month the new nonstop US flights “are looking good in terms of advanced bookings, particularly in business class”. He added the Newark flight “since launch has proved very popular”.

When asked about the huge spike in SIA’s US capacity, particularly in premium economy, Mr Wilson remarked that more overall seats are a good thing because it provides a bigger overall revenue opportunity. SIA previously operated nonstop flights to Newark and Los Angeles with 100-seat all business class A340-500s.

The 20 nonstop US flights launched over the last two months are operated with a fleet of seven newly delivered A350-900ULRs, which have 94 premium economy and 67 business class seats. The 20 flights include 10 to Los Angeles, seven to Newark and three to San Francisco. SIA also has seven weekly nonstop flights to San Francisco that were launched in 2016 using three class 253-seat A350-900 and will use this type for the new Seattle route.

Mr Wilson said SIA would not have been able to resume nonstop flights to Newark and Los Angeles, which were initially operated from 2004 to 2013, without a step change in aircraft technology. “The A340-500s we operated previously was 1990s technology four-engine aircraft built and designed when fuel was 20 odd dollars a barrel,” Mr Wilson said. “The challenge with that route was never demand. It was aircraft efficiency and now with the right aircraft we are very confident it will do well.”

Nonstop flights to the US are strategically important to SIA as they give it a competitive advantage in the Singapore-US market. United Airlines is the only other carrier operating nonstops from Singapore to the US but only serves San Francisco. There are more than 20 other airlines competing in the Singapore-US market but with less convenient one-stop services.

By reintroducing the nonstop flights SIA also opens up one-stop connections to offline US destinations. Mr Wilson said US connectivity will particularly improve with Seattle because it is the closest mainland US point to Singapore and the main hub for SIA partner Alaska Airlines. “You can access the interior US much faster and much easier through Seattle than some of the other US points we serve.”

SIA also expects a strong local market given that Seattle and Singapore are both tech hubs. “We think the market has developed such where there is a corporate market,” Mr Wilson said. “Clearly there is a leisure market. The Cascades and the greater Washington area including British Colombia are a great catchment, a great destination.”

Meanwhile, the new nonstop flights enable SIA to augment its Singapore hub as they enable one-stop connections from four US gateways to a wide range of destinations in Southeast Asia and South Asia. Mr Wilson pointed out the SIA Group now has 138 destinations, including those served by LCC subsidiary Scoot. SIA and Scoot have been working to improve connectivity, resulting in improved feed for SIA’s newly expanded US operation and its overall network.

“It’s coming together and we are seeing very good volumes being sold onto Scoot by the Singapore Airlines network,” Mr Wilson said. “The growth rate is quite considerable albeit small from a total percentage of our overall carriage. Clearly a 130-city network effectively selling across each other is of great commercial value to the business so it’s something we are continually working towards.”

HEAR MORE from Singapore Airlines’ SVP sales and marketing, Campbell Wilson, in this exclusive CAPA TV interview filmed on the sidelines of the CAPA Asia Aviation Summit in Singapore in early Nov-2018.